Music therapy: entry into the world of sounds

“She only likes music when it’s loud, when it goes into her stomach,” Herbert Grönemeyer sang in 1984, making it clear to many people for the first time that deaf people absorb and perceive vibrations through their bodies. The perception of vibrations is only one facet of music as therapy – the awakening of emotions and memories is another.

Music as a means of communication

Music serves as a means of communication. Not only to sing cheesy declarations of love under shaky balconies or to loudly bring political convictions into the world.

Music has been used in medicine since ancient times to heal numerous ailments. Temple chants have been handed down from the Sumerian kingdom, which were firmly integrated into healing rituals. From antiquity to 1550, music was an integral part of the training of the respective physicians. In the present, music therapy is experiencing a strong upswing after the Second World War.

Today, music therapy is defined as “the targeted use of music within the framework of the therapeutic relationship to restore, maintain and promote mental, physical and spiritual health”. This includes all music-therapeutic psychotherapeutic concepts that are used in medicine. It’s not about “right” or “wrong” singing, or whether the piano lessons were successful.

Musical access to people with depression

Music therapy is often used where the usual means of communication fail.  Music therapy offers support and help for the most common mental and psychiatric illnesses in old age –  depression  and dementia . With music, depressive people who are trapped in their emotional world often succeed in leaving their  emotional rigidity  and getting involved with life again.

However, the music therapy approach to depressive people should be left to the therapists. Music therapy is always integrated into an overall therapeutic concept and is competently cared for there – simply playing a CD is not enough.

Music therapy against forgetting

For people with senile dementia, music is the means of choice  to evoke memories.  Because formative musical experiences are made in youth and people with senile dementia usually live in the reality of their childhood and youth, music therapists can build on experiences that their patients have not forgotten.

Many patients with senile dementia who can no longer remember the names of their relatives can easily sing songs from their youth. For many patients, this experience alone is a part of their  quality of life.  Music addresses emotions that go far beyond verbal and cognitive abilities.

Conversely,  mobility can also be stimulated again in this way  : A little dance to the music often follows quite spontaneously when the rhythm and music are communicated to the body. Recognizing this potential is the task of the music therapist, who has to deal with each individual patient accordingly. The term “music lesson in a retirement home” certainly does not do justice to the music therapy approach in geriatric care.

With rattles and soft strings

The therapist decides what kind of music, what instruments and to what extent music is used therapeutically. For example, many therapists  use Orff instruments  that do not require the patient to have any prior musical training.

A “sound chair” is also used if body sensation and perception are to be supported   . The patient sits upright with his back against the armrest in the chair, on the back of which steel strings are vibrated by the therapist. The sound is perceived on the chair over the whole body, with the spine forming the physical center of vibration transmission.

Therapists appreciate the sound chair because it allows the patient to adopt an upright but comfortable posture that supports inner awareness and awareness. Above all, patients who are  afraid  of feeling at their mercy or who are very helpless because of a physical disability benefit from the new therapy tool. Sound loungers are also used for infants and children or the severely disabled, with which the sounds can be perceived over the entire body.

Relaxation for body and soul

Music – whether primarily heard or played by oneself – serves to address the patient emotionally and in this way to reduce tension and  to find communicative approaches to the patient  . Accordingly, music is used as a building block in the psychological and psychiatric treatment of children. 

Because the sense of hearing remains functional the longest, even the seriously ill can be addressed through music. Studies have established that these patients can be addressed through the sense of hearing through sounds, tones and speech. At the same time, feelings are transported. Trust, security and closeness resonate. Measurements show that deeper and more regular breathing and a slower heartbeat follow – relaxation and calming occurs.

Music therapy for coma patients

Therefore, music therapy is used as an adjunctive therapy in patients in a vegetative state. These patients have suffered lasting damage as a result of external influences such as an accident, bleeding in the brain or temporary lack of oxygen. It used to be assumed that people in a coma were not aware of their surroundings. Often these patients lie in their beds with their eyes open but almost motionless. Outside observers find it difficult to assess what is going on inside them.

Today we know that vegetative state patients   react to attention and specific sensory stimuli . Many patients experience an improvement in the course of the vegetative state, which can be temporary or permanent. For this reason, music therapy measures are also recommended by the Association of German Pension Insurance Providers.


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