Although music therapy has shown effectiveness, research with greater experimental rigor is needed to achieve solid scientific evidence.
Music is one of humanity’s oldest forms of expression, being considered by many cultures as an entity linked to the supernatural or the divine. The evocative properties of its rhythms and melodies are so evident that it has been used throughout history -and prehistory-, as part of various healing rituals that seek to combat all kinds of diseases.
Because of this, different professionals and contemporary researchers have studied and formed it in the paper writing and scientific articles the effects that music has on our organism with the hope of using it for therapeutic purposes, thus developing a current called music therapy.
The advocates of this practice claim that music is an effective tool for treating many physical and psychological conditions. Given this proposal, it is considered essential to determine scientific evidence that supports this discipline so popular among professionals and non-specialists.
One of the main properties of music therapy that makes it difficult to obtain scientific evidence on its practice is the vagueness of its conceptualization.
In general terms, this discipline can be defined as the use of music to achieve therapeutic objectives: the recovery, preservation, and improvement of mental and physical health.
In reality, music therapy would be a dynamic combination of many practices and disciplines, involving very diverse therapeutic methods with different levels of recognition and legitimacy, such as dance therapy, psychodrama, or art therapy.
This relative imprecision does not imply that music within the clinical setting be considered a form of music therapy. On the contrary, it is distinguished by a relational component, where a therapist implements a structured methodology, based on a psychological intervention model, to respond to a specific problem suffered by an individual or group.
In its beginnings as a formal practice, music therapy was mainly used to treat communication disorders in children and adolescents. However, its
various modalities have been employed in numerous other fields nowadays. Among the most prominent are the following:
* Playful and relaxation technique.
* Tool in the treatment of psychiatric pathologies.
* Interpersonal therapies.
* Addiction treatment.
* Special education.
* Psychomotor treatments for various disabilities.
* In children and adolescents with behavioral problems.
* For the improvement of communication blockages.
It should be noted that the success or failure of these strategies is attributed to certain specific variables, such as the type of music, the duration of the sessions, and the attitude of the music therapist.
The scientific evidence behind music therapy
Since the first prehistoric communities, music has played a key role in the development of human beings, forming part of all areas of their lives. Its effects on people’s state of mind are undeniable, a property that has been used by artists, religious people, and politicians to influence the will and behavior of the people around them. However, it was not until the 19th century that the use of music as a formal treatment really began to be considered.
Over the years, different disciplines have determined specific effects of music on the human organism. Among the most notable findings are the following:
* Music can activate corticocortical and limbic system circuits and
emotional reward systems, provoking sensations of well-being and
* Some studies have discovered the influence of music on internal
parameters such as blood pressure or heart rate.
* Through dance, music favors motor rehabilitation by stimulating brain
circuits between the auditory and motor cortex.
* Studies document the positive effect of music on communication,
language, and memory.
* Music affects the brain at the neurochemical level, influencing reward
and pleasure circuits, stress and arousal, and areas in charge of the
immune system and social relationships.
Fields in which there is scientific evidence of the
effectiveness of music therapy
Alzheimer’s disease: sessions of classical or familiar music to patients to stimulate memories. It has improved patients’ cognitive and emotional states with mild and moderate disorders, increased memory and orientation, and decreased anxious and depressive symptoms. However, the duration of this effect is imprecise. In addition, exposure of patients to familiar songs has successfully promoted fluent conversation and language ability.
Other dementias: musical improvisation is used to stimulate the cognitive faculties of patients. Significant reduction of psychological symptoms and complications, such as agitation, stress, and depression, and an increase in interaction and communication skills have been observed.
Autism spectrum disorders: use of teaching strategies involving music listening and song interpretation. These techniques encourage and enhance verbal production and independent responses; support interpersonal skills such as eye contact and joint attention; stimulate learning of self-care behaviors; and promote play and participation.
Developmental delay and learning disabilities: teaching strategies and techniques involving music, dance, and song. Children learn appropriate social and motor behaviors and how to follow instructions. In addition, communication, verbal imitation, and memory are improved.
Psychomotor disorders: development of elementary motor control and sensorimotor coordination through exercises involving rhythm. These strategies have succeeded in stimulating agility, balance and body coordination in students undergoing this therapy.
Communication difficulties: use of singing as a tool to improve speech and language. In addition, music is used as an alternative means of communication for children who cannot speak.
Attention deficit and hyperactivity: musical composition is used to exercise attention to a specific task. In addition, rhythm is used to internal organization and impulse control.
Sensory deficits: group musical composition in children with hearing impairment allows the development of better interpersonal relationships and stimulates auditory discrimination and language development. On the other hand, people with visual impairment respond very well to music strategies since it allows them to enjoy activities in which they are fully competent, satisfying emotional needs.
As we have seen, music has proven to be a valuable tool in treating different conditions. However, this does not imply that music therapy can be considered a formal therapeutic discipline, fully supported by scientific evidence.
One of the most evident reservations about the validity of the techniques used in music therapy is the large number of strategies that this term encompasses. On the one hand, we have structured programs carried out by trained therapists. While at the same time, this discipline also contemplates educational intervention plans that involve music as part of a larger strategy and can be practiced by educational psychologists,
teachers, or other professionals. It implies that, although many of these strategies yield positive results, these do not belong to the same order, so they only have in common the use of music as a means for treatment.
Many research studies that seek to validate music therapy strategies are presented as single case studies or show too much flexibility in their intervention plan. Thus, the data retrieved from such research are only valid in specific contexts.
Because of this situation, and despite the various successes reported, it is necessary to integrate more research works in this field that acts with a more rigid experimental rigor. Only through this strategy will it be possible for music therapy to reach the necessary solidity and unity to be considered a formal and well-founded therapeutic current.