Healing the Mind Through Music


Dr. Malaya Santos

Dr. Malaya Pimentel-Santos is a long-time community health advocate, having worked with several nongovernment health organizations. She is a fellow of the Philippine Dermatological Society and a professor of microbiology at the St. Luke’s College of Medicine.

For comments, msantosmd@hotmail.com

(First of two parts)

“…music therapists draw upon the innate qualities of music to support people of all ages and abilities and at all stages of life; from helping new born babies develop healthy bonds with their parents, to offering vital, sensitive and compassionate palliative care at the end of life.” – British Association for Music Therapy

Music has always been a big part of my life. I grew up listening to the lyrics and melodies of folk songs, country music and (dare I say) protest songs from the 70s, sung to the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar and, during special occasions, around bonfires in the home of my childhood.

Music is the art – some may consider it a science – of combining sounds or tones wherein the resultant pattern or product can be described as pleasant and enjoyable. According to the Oxford Dictionaries, music is made up of “vocal or instrumental sounds (or both) combined in such a way as to produce beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion”.

Music has been used as a form of therapy since ancient times, by many different cultures. From a biomedical perspective, the therapeutic benefits and healing properties of music are well established. The American Music Therapy Association describes music therapy as the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized therapeutic goals. They further emphasize the importance of professional credentials and proper training for practitioners.

A search of the published contemporary medical literature reveals that music has been studied extensively as a therapeutic modality for many specific health conditions, using different scientific models and methodologies. In many of these studies, the results are extremely promising, indicating that music can be valuable for a variety of conditions including pain, stress, Parkinson’s disease, autism, dementia, sleep disorders, depression, and many other types of mental illness.

Disabled and trauma survivors

Throughout the world, innovative programs have successfully incorporated music into the therapy and rehabilitation of vulnerable children. In the aftermath of the Gaza war offensives of 2008, play, art and music therapy were conducted in schools to help children cope with grief, anxiety and post-traumatic stress (Gavlak and Jamjourn, 2009).In Jordan, Musiqati, a program of the United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund(UNICEF) provides opportunities for Syrian children to process their feelings and emotions through music, harmony and rhythm. Since the start of the program, facilitators have noted an improvement in the children’s behavior and emotional wellbeing (Ferguson, 2018). Closer to home, the Mandaluyong City local government has integrated music into the therapy for children with disabilities, who are trained to be part of the city’s Drum and Lyre Corps(Cabrera, n.d.).

Conquering stigma

Because it is often misunderstood, mental illness is highly stigmatized by society. Affected individuals may suffer from shame and low self-esteem, and are often unable or unwilling to openly discuss their condition with those around them. Some may have been victims of bias and discrimination either professionally or in their personal lives.

This negative response from society (and at times even just the fear of experiencing such) can be distressing and demoralizing, which places a significant added burden upon affected individuals. Regrettably, social stigma may sometimes serve as a deterrent to seeking help, support and treatment. Regardless of the specific condition, increasing awareness, confronting stereotypes and correcting misconceptions are critical in order to erase the deeply rooted fear and stigma.

Music has also been utilized to help destigmatize mental illness. In 2015, The Creative Madness in Song, a unique awareness-building partnership project in London (Salman, 2015) brought together classically trained singers and pianists, composing and performing songs using lyrics and stories written by people who had experienced schizophrenia and depression.

The way forward

On a positive note, we do have trained music therapists here in the Philippines. As regards mental health in general, much still remains to be done here in the country, where the equitable and affordable delivery of quality health care remains an aspiration. As health professionals, we need to advocate for meaningful dialogue about mental health-related issues. Hand in hand with this, we must continually work to help empower those living with mental illness by promoting awareness, providing tools such as support and counseling, and creating greater opportunities for inclusion as productive members of society.

Music is a universal healing medium that can transcend age, race, culture, even language itself. Many different cultures use music to celebrate triumphs, heal wounds, and soften losses, at virtually every stage of human life. Over the decades, I have come to appreciate many different types of music: classical, jazz, pop, hip-hop, R&B, rock, nursery rhymes and the music of Sesame Street, Barney and the Teletubbies, Disney and Broadway, our very own original Pilipino music (OPM), and traditional music from the Cordilleras and Mindanao.

My home has always been filled with music: singing, listening to and playing tunes on the recorder, piano and guitar, and popular music played on the radio. This also helps me to manage the mundane routine of day-today living: I find that difficult tasks, big and small crises – even the horrible traffic of Metro Manila – are all made more endurable if accompanied by music. I may not be a musician but I can connect instinctively to music of any genre. In addition, I relate on a deeply cathartic level to the melody and lyrics of specific songs. I find music to be immensely calming and satisfying, no matter what my mood, and I can say with conviction www.ecellulitis.com that music for me is definitely therapeutic.

Aug 2018 Health and Lifestyle

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