Music is well-known to help people heal, whether they are listening to it, writing it or making it.

March is Music Therapy Month in Canada.  All across the country, there are music therapists working in various settings, using the powerful tools of music to improve the lives of those in their care.  

RR-2016-03-30-music-therapy-month-collageAccording to the Canadian Association for Music Therapists, certified music therapists are accredited healthcare professionals who use music in individual and small group settings to improve physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being for people of all ages and needs. Music therapists work in a variety of medical settings, from surgical units to mental health centres, pediatric wards and neonatal intensive care units.

In Saskatoon, there are music therapists working at the University of Saskatchewan, Sherbrooke Community Centre, in private practice in the community and at St. Paul’s Hospital (SPH). At SPH, music therapists work in various units to bring music and an enhanced quality of life to patients as part of the Healing Arts Program. They also work with palliative patients and family members using music to accompany their journey. Many of these programs are thanks to the generous support of donors and foundations who recognize the benefit of music therapy.

RR-2016-03-30-music-therapy-month-posterMusic therapists use musical interventions to accomplish non-musical goals. In music therapy sessions, music that is familiar and meaningful to the client provides the basis for a trusting relationship between the client and therapist, as well as the medium through which individualized treatment goals can be achieved. The therapist may use singing, instrumental activities, movement to music, listening or improvisation to motivate the client to respond. Above all, the music therapist aims to improve the quality of life and overall well-being of the client, developing his or her innate creative potential.

Music is known to have physiological effects on the body. It can promote muscular relaxation, alleviate the perception of pain and discomfort, decrease agitation and restlessness, and promote movement. Music also stimulates the brain stem, regulates heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance and muscle tension. Brain stem neurons tend to fire synchronously with the tempo of music, and the cardiovascular system reacts to both stimulating and relaxing music. Recent research has shown that listening to a steady beat can help people with Parkinson’s disease move better.

Psychologically, music can alleviate anxiety and depression, and help people explore and express emotion, especially those who have a limited ability to express themselves verbally. Music also encourages people to socialize with others and to strengthen bonds with loved ones; it can be a way to express spirituality or explore questions of the unknown.

Music therapy is appropriate for all ages and stages of life, and you don’t need musical experience or ability to benefit from it.

Music therapists hold a bachelor’s degree (BMT) at minimum and are accredited through the Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT). The Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund (CMTTF) provides start-up funding for clinical programming.