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Patients use music therapy for healing and wellness
Can be used individually, with families, or in groups
There is a distinction between music and music therapy that patients need to understand in order to use music more effectively in their lives, says Barbara Dunn, PhD, LICSW, MT-BC, a music therapist at Whidbey General Hospital on Whidbey Island, WA.
It is similar to physical therapy in that patients can come up with exercises on their own that may be beneficial, but for a particular ailment, they are assessed and given exercises that specifically address the problem, explains Dunn.
It's not simply a jazz track playing in the background that will ease stress or reduce anxiety, but specific music that has been selected for a specific patient, she adds.
Yet music therapy is not limited to listening to live or recorded music. It can involve instrument playing, singing, song writing, and improvisation.
To become a music therapist, a person must receive advanced training in music, psychology, physiology, and music therapy techniques. Also, he or she must complete many hours of clinical training before sitting for the Music Therapy Board Certification exam. It is possible to receive a BA, MA, or PhD in music therapy.
How can a music therapist help with patient education? At Whidbey General Hospital, Dunn is part of a pulmonary rehabilitation course that involves a series of classes taught by a variety of instructors including the respiratory therapist. Each teacher builds on what the other class instructors are teaching.
"We are all working on improving breathing techniques through different avenues," explains Dunn.
She teaches patients enrolled in the course good breathing techniques through singing using abdominal breathing versus shallow breathing. Also she passes out harmonicas, for they are excellent tools to improve breathing.
With the harmonica, she uses a variety of exercises that help patients learn to lengthen tone, which increases lung capacity. For example, one technique is breathing in on the harmonica and increasing the length of time holding the tone. Another is using pursed lips to focus on one sound. Usually, blowing on a harmonica creates three tones, but this teaches patients to focus on one tone to improve breathing.
Dunn tells her patients that if they want to use music as part of their healing process, they need to find a way to integrate it into their daily life - or at least use it a few times a week, so it becomes a part of their rehabilitation process.
"Music is fun, so people may be more inclined to use it with greater frequency. In this class, I am teaching them skills that they can take away and use throughout their day," says Dunn.
Addresses many issues
While patients are referred for music therapy for many reasons, a common one is to help reduce pain. Dunn teaches people to use music for guided relaxation that can distract them helping them to move away from their pain. In this case, the music is used to help people think about something other than their pain. It helps them move into a different place that is free from pain.
Another technique - called entrainment - helps patients move through their pain. This is done by matching the intensity of the music with the intensity of the pain, and once the two are entrained, using the music to guide the person to a more comfortable state.
Dunn tells people who want to use music to relax to find three CDs of music they like and have learned to relax with. So, when they have difficulty, they can put that music on and their body will respond.
"It starts with paying attention to how you feel with certain kinds of music and letting yourself explore that," says Dunn.
Music also can help people express feelings when dealing with an illness.
"You can say something through song that might be harder said or harder heard through words without the music," says Dunn.
Often people have special songs or types of music they react positively to, says Dunn. She advises people with chronic illness to pay attention to the place music has in their lives, determining when music has helped them feel better. Sometimes, a person with a chronic illness may find that learning to play an instrument is helpful. Each must identify what is relevant, says Dunn.
Music can be used to improve communication between family members, as well. Dunn says she sometimes works with children who have autism where there are family issues inhibiting their ability to learn or grow. People learn to communicate through singing or playing music together. There are exercises that help them work on verbal skills.
"The best way for people to learn to use music is to meet with a music therapist and work out a plan that is specific to their skills, needs, illness, and their family," says Dunn.
For information on how to incorporate music therapy into patient education, contact:
Additional information on music therapy can be obtained through the American Music Therapy Association: www.musictherapy.org.