Healing Power of Music Therapy; Music Is Not Just Good for the Soul, but Great for Your Health Too. LISA SALMON Discovers a Totally Different Kind of Therapy

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH it may not yet come in pill form, there's increasing evidence music could be good for your health.

Just as listening to your favourite songs can be relaxing or mood-enhancing, music therapists say it may also help treat a host of health problems, ranging from autism, dementia, strokes, neuro-degenerative diseases and brain injuries, to mental health problems and learning difficulties.

Indeed, a Finnish study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry found depressed patients who had music therapy, as well as standard counselling and medication, showed a greater reduction in anxiety and depression than those who didn't.

The patients who played drums or instruments such as the xylophone, described the therapy as "cathartic", and researchers said it was likely their participation acted as a means of releasing inner emotional pressure.

Prof Christian Gold from the University of Jyvaskyla, who led the research, said: "Music therapy has specific qualities that allow people to express themselves and interact in a non-verbal way, even in situations when they can't find the words to describe their inner experiences."

In March this year, researchers at Japan's Osaka University also found music could lower people's levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as blood pressure.

In addition, various other studies have found it can help improve a person's mobility after they've had a stroke, through a form of music therapy called rhythmic auditory stimulation, where the rhythmic element of music can help victims re-establish walking and speech patterns.

Last year, former EastEnders' star John Bardon, who played Jim Branning in the soap, was reportedly using music therapy sessions to help him recover in this way. His wife Edna previously said: "He attends music therapy classes three times a week."

Now available on the NHS, music therapy can take many forms. A person may play their choice of musical instrument, have music played to them, or choose to write songs. And the sessions can be one-to-one or in groups.

The technique involved will change depending on the person and their needs, says music therapist Tina Warnock, trustee of the newly-formed British Association for Music Therapy. Autistic children looking for ways to express themselves may enjoy improvising music, for example. While withdrawn patients may find music being played to them aids their ability to communicate.

It can also be used in palliative care to soothe patients and their families and, if necessary, help them express their feelings.

Ms Warnock explains it isn't about learning to play instruments, but benefiting from the experience of the sound.

"If they want to sit and play the xylophone, then it's our job to support them," she explained. …