Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

Music and Medicine Future Directions for Music Therapy?

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

Music and Medicine Future Directions for Music Therapy?

Article excerpt


In the last ten years, there has been a resurgence of interest in holistic approaches to health care, and in medical applications of music. Research findings suggest that music can have a valuable role in stress management and biofeedback, in the management of medical and dental pain, in psychoneuroimmunology, and in performing arts medicine. It is important for music therapists to be aware of these developments which offer exciting new prospects for music therapy practice and research.


Music and medicine have been closely associated in many cultures throughout history. However, recent Western history has been dominated by Cartesian dualism in which mind and body are seen to be separate entities. Music involves the mind and emotions and so has been seen to have little relevance to physical health. Although music therapists have practised in various rehabilitation settings for many years, their work has received scant recognition. In a recent press report a leading Australian medical practitioner claimed that music therapy had no credibility as a treatment technique (Couper-Smartt, 1991).

In an overview of music therapy practices in Australia in 1983, Erdonmez described behaviour modification, developmental and humanistic/creative approaches, indicating a closer association with psychology than with medicine. However, during the last ten years there has been a resurgence of interest in music and medicine. This has come with increasing recognition for the interaction between biological, social and psychological influences on health, and the rise of holistic approaches to the treatment and prevention of disease.

In 1989, Lippin, a medical practitioner and founding president of the International Arts-Medicine Association, addressed the annual conference of the National Association for Music Therapy in the USA on the interdisciplinary field of Arts-Medicine, defined as the holistic study of links between the arts and human health. He emphasized the protection of the health of performing artists, the power of the arts to heal individuals, institutions and society, and the role of the arts in rehumanising health education and health care institutions. Two-thirds of the members of the world-wide International Society for Music in Medicine are medical doctors, and most of the published research in music and medicine has been conducted by physicians, nurses and psychologists (Taylor, 1988).

The growth of the New Age movement and alternative health practices has also led to an abundance of new ideas and publications on music and sound for healing e.g. Halpern and Savary (1985), Keyes (1987) and Lingerman (1983), as well as a huge market for recorded music for relaxation.

As Taylor (1988) states, the future of the music therapy profession may be at stake if we fail to address these areas. "It appears that the bandwagon destined to reunite music and medicine is well on its way, and too few music therapists are aware of its progress. Missing it entirely could be embarrassing at least, but playing a major part could greatly elevate the credibility of all areas of music therapy applications both inside and outside the medical field" (p. 92).


Standley (1986) provides a comprehensive overview and meta-analysis of 30 empirical studies using music in actual medical and dental treatments. In 54 out of 55 variables analyzed, music conditions enhanced medical objectives, whether measured by physiological, psychological/self-report or behavioural means.

The estimated effect sizes (i.e. the proportion of standard deviation showing the difference between experimental and control groups) ranged from. 17 to 3.28 with an average effect size of .98. While these results seem impressive, statistical significance is not discussed. The greatest effect sizes were achieved with dental, cardiac and surgical patients, and the smallest effect sizes were achieved with neonates, obstetric and cancer patients. …

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