The Healing Power of Music
With the potential to fight infections, soothe pain and ease
autism, a sweet melody can be strong medicine
From: Reader’s Digest, September 2001, Page 175
By: Peter Jaret
By the time Debbie Clark took Adam, her autistic three-year-old son, to a musical therapist, he could barely speak. At the music-therapy clinic at California State University in Northridge, therapists encouraged the autistic child to express himself by playing instruments and beating out rhythms on drums. They put conversations to song in order to get Adam talking.
“In three months, the change was phenomenal,” says Clark. “Before, Adam would never look a stranger in the eye, let alone speak. Now, after his music-therapy session, he waves to the therapist and says, ‘Bye, Jim. Bye, Ron. See you next week.’ Believe me, that’s music to my ears.”
Music, researchers around the world are discovering, can help healing in a variety of ways. Burn victims encouraged to sing while having their dressing changed experience less pain. Cancer patients who listen to music and practice improvising on instruments, for example, see their levels of stress hormones drop and their immune systems get stronger.
Part of music’s power comes from its ability to relieve anxiety, which can suppress immune defenses as well as intensify the experience of pain. Music, especially singing, takes a person’s mind off the suffering and soothes tension. “By helping patients relax, music eases pain and may even speed recovery,” says Richard Fratianne, professor of surgery at Case Western Reserve University.
The experiences of autistic children like Adam Clark suggest that music’s effects reach deeper, even influencing brain development. The therapeutic use of music seems to activate different parts of the brain, including networks associated with motor control, memory, emotion and speech, explains neuroscientist and musician Michael Thaut at Colorado State University. In his own work, Thaut is using the close link between music and movement to help people slowed by strokes, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease.
Says Northridge music therapist Ron Borczon: “Traditional healers have used songs and drumming for centuries. We’re simply rediscovering what they always knew – that music, through its profound effect on mind and body, can be a potent way to help people get well.”
"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2
"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4