Thursday, April 25, 2013

Music is therapy

A recent posting titled, “Music therapy makes a difference,” brought to mind a point that I often ponder, namely that existence is more than a biological journey.  The piece points to a child with developmental and cognitive disabilities who was able to respond more effectively to the activities around him when music therapy was applied. 

Through his story, we are able to see that music made a definitely positive difference where medical practices did not.  It also reminds us that music is an ancient form of therapy.  For example, the psalms as recorded in the Bible were musical poetry that soothed, comforted, spiritually uplifted and healed. The 42nd Psalm sings in part, “, “…hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”

As I read, I recalled a friend in hospice just prior to passing from our experience.  For years he had been unable to care for himself in any way and was heavily medicated.  In his short spans of consciousness in a nursing home, he was able to bring a kind of humor to those caring for or visiting him.  Now, in hospice, there was no more medication and there was no obvious consciousness  - until music was brought in.  With live music and singing, his eyes opened and a smile appeared.  This joyful indication of a live consciousness appeared whenever the music was present, but not otherwise.

Music is not a drug or a medication.  Yet it is therapeutic. 

Mitchell L. Gaynor, MD, Director of Oncology and Integrative Medicine at the renowned Strang Cancer Prevention Center, writes in his book Sounds of Healing, “Most of us have experienced moments of deep feeling, whether it be exhilaration or sorrow, while hearing a piece of classical music to which we particularly respond. … We shouldn’t then be surprised to learn that sound in its purest form can promote healing at the very deepest levels of being.” (p. 27)

Sounds of Healing introduces very positive healing effects from attention to the whole individual and especially results of chasing away mental blockage to physical healing through engagement with musical sounds. 

Dr. Gaynor relates that his medical training had prepared him to look at and treat only the condition of the physical body.  Yet, as he began his practice, he noticed his patients’ fears and how deeply his patients were searching for a deeper healing experience beyond attention to the body.  About his musical healing work, he writes “My healing work has become as important as my work as an oncologist.  I have come to see myself as a healer who happens to be a doctor, rather than as a doctor who dabbles on the side in what too many people still dismiss as ‘alternative’ medicine.” (p. 25-26)

According to the website for the American Music Therapy Association, those who benefit from music therapy include: “Children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer's disease and other aging related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labor.”

Thoughts about what is health care evolve.  In recent times, music therapy reemerged about 1950, but even today is not considered mainstream.  Yet, it is found healing.

It is interesting that Dr. Gaynor identifies methods not presently taught in medical schools as dismissed from the center of health care thinking.  Even though effective, they may not be covered by medical insurance, which may be a missed opportunity since they are far less costly than drugs and bring about elevation of health.

A related form of ancient healing that remains active today is prayer.  Prayer is my primary form of health care.  It has healed me of poor eyesight, a damaged hand, a painful inability to move limbs on one side of my body and other health challenges.  I have found that I can trust God, divine Love, more than other health approaches for healing.

Today we might call our psalms hymns.  One stanza that has lifted me time and again is this from Hymn 153 by Mary Baker Eddy in The Christian Science Hymnal:

 O'er waiting harpstrings of the mind
There sweeps a strain,
Low, sad, and sweet, whose measures bind
The power of pain”

As Dr. Gaynor is illustrating with his practice, healing the body through mindful and spiritual methods is not just an abstraction, but a practical approach to health and healing.

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