Music vs. Medicine


Music therapy has been in use in the United States since as early as 1789, and music as a psychological healing treatment has been around as long as humans haven’t had tails. Why then, is it still making the news, and what has changed? The answer lies in technology and attitude.

The advances in medical testing facilities combined with advances in electronic music recording and production enable a higher standard of methodology to be applied to previous music therapy theories. There is also a greater interest now in alternative treatments, with the larger segment of the population comprised of aging Baby Boomers, and funding for alternative treatments is more readily available for studies. Music therapy has gone beyond psychological treatments alone and is now being used more broadly in physical medicine.

Recent studies from the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital have shown COPD patients incorporating music therapy into their treatment programs have a higher quality of life due to their increased engagement in their self-care.

In Japan, comprehensive studies done on the effectiveness of musical intervention therapy found strong evidence to support using music therapy as an adjunctive therapy not only in anxiety cases, neonatal development stimulation and addiction treatment but also in stimulating the neural synapses associated with language in stroke cases.

Tinnitus has been treated effectively with music therapy, with 66 percent of the patients in the test group receiving music therapy attaining meaningful improvement, compared to only 33 percent in the group that received only counseling.

There have been studies at the University of Toronto demonstrating the effectiveness of sound vibration on chronic pain sufferers. Researchers at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Singapore found that patients in palliative care who took part in live music therapy sessions reported relief from persistent pain.

Most people are still unaware that music therapy is a legitimate form of wellness treatment. Fewer still are aware that this treatment is covered by many insurance providers and also by Medicaid and Medicare, in many circumstances. Since 1994, music therapy has qualified as a reimbursable service under the PHP, or Partial Hospitalization Program, as an activity therapy. Insurance providers such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana, Great West Life, Aetna, Metropolitan and Provident have reimbursed for music therapy services on a case-by-case basis, based on medical necessity.

Music therapy can be, and is, incorporated into hospitals’ intensive care plans, as shown by the 2005 study by Suzanne Hanser and Susan Mandel (Cardiology in Review, 2005), which illustrates this incorporation with the use of music therapy techniques in their cardiac care units to assist patients dealing with acute stress.

The trend of “whole person” treatment aimed towards healing the person-rather than the 19th-century tradition of treating the symptoms to cure the condition-is on the upswing. Stress is recognized as today’s number one killer, and music therapy has been proved for over 200 years now to be an effective treatment for stress reduction, in mental health healing and now in more complicated physical issues like COPD. It’s time to accept music therapy into the realm of legitimate health-care practice and give it the respect and opportunity it deserves.


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