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Music therapy shown to help children, others with developmental disabilities

June 3, 2013

With more than 5,000 music therapists in the U.S. today, music therapy is a practice that is growing in demand, popularity and relevance in today’s health care.

Today’s music therapists work in a variety of health care facilities including psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, medical hospitals, outpatient clinics, day care treatment centers, agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities, community mental health centers, drug and alcohol programs, senior centers, nursing homes, hospice programs, correctional facilities, halfway houses, schools, and private practice.

Annie Heiderscheit, Ph.D., MT-BC is a board certified music therapist and assistant professor at the Center for Spirituality & Healing. From her experience, Heiderscheit says that music therapy programs can be designed to:

  • Promote wellness
  • Manage stress and anxiety
  • Alleviate pain
  • Express feelings
  • Enhance memory
  • Improve and foster communication
  • Promote physical rehabilitation

Music therapy can be beneficial to a number of people and Heiderscheit has helped children, adults, and elderly with mental health needs, related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labor, premature infants, and mechanically ventilated patients.

So, how does music therapy work?

“The science we are seeing behind music therapy is that the therapeutic application of music can foster the relaxation response, slowing down the rhythms of the body that increase due to the stress response. Brain research is also demonstrating that music stimulates each area of the brain and is showing great promise in neuroplasticity research,” said Heiderscheit. “Additionally, music therapy research is demonstrating positive impacts on the immune system, decreasing cortisol levels and fostering increased in natural killer cell activity.”

Heiderscheit and research colleagues were recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and discusses how the use of a patient directed music listening protocol helps to decrease anxiety in mechanically ventilated ICU patients as well as decrease the amount sedation.

To see how music therapy helps premature babies and their parents, watch this USA Today video.


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