A Brief History of Music Therapies

The therapeutic power of music has been recognized and interpreted in different ways through out history. Music has most consistently been credited with contributing to emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being, but it was also more broadly associated with the fields of medicine and healing in general.

Ancient Greek mythology and philosophy linked the domains of music and medicine. Apollo was god of both music and medicine, and the legendary physician and demi-god, Aesculapius, was said to use music and song. Hippocrates, whose writings and disciples influenced Western medicine for millennia, played music to sooth patients suffering from mental conditions. Aristotle and Plato both said that music affected the emotions and the soul. According to Plato, music could even impact an individual’s character. Following Hippocrates, the Roman encyclopaedist, Aulus Cornelius Celsus, also suggested using music and sound to treat mental patients. He in particular suggested cymbals and running water.

Music was also used to treat melancholics and other emotionally and mentally distressed patients in the Middle Ages. The healing power of music was attested to by the Biblical story of David ridding King Saul of an evil spirit by playing the harp. One of the methods used in an attempt to relieve St Vitus’ Dance, or the mysterious “dancing plague” which periodically struck through out Europe during the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries, causing people to compulsively dance themselves into exhaustion or even death, was to have a musician play to the afflicted. Thirteenth century hospitals in the Arab world included music rooms for the patients, and Persian psychologist and music theorist al-Farabi discussed the therapeutic effects of music on the soul in his treatise Meanings of the Intellect.

While earlier works on music’s therapeutic powers tended to suggest that music worked to bring the soul and body into harmony congruent with the principles of musical harmony, the eighteenth century brought a new understanding of mind-body connection based on nerves, and with it a new interpretation of music therapy. The power of music over the nerves, and thus the physical body as well as the mind and soul, was articulated in works such as Reflections of Antient and Modern Musick by Richard Brocklesby, and The Connection of Music to Medicine by Ernst Anton Nicolai, and by the French Academy of Sciences. In the nineteenth century, some scholars went so far as to argue that musical stimulation of the nerves could actively improve physical health. Peter Lichtenthal, who was a musician, composer, and physician, wrote a book entitled The Musical Doctor and advocated for taking a “dose of music”.

Musical therapy in its modern form originates in the aftermath of World War I and II, when musicians would play at hospitals for soldiers suffering from emotional and physical trauma. The United States Department of War, the United States Army, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre, along with the US Surgeon General were instrumental in assessing the viability and value of music therapy, and endorsing its development and use. One of the earliest assessments of a music therapy program was carried out after World War II with the goal of determining whether “music presented according to a specific plan” effectively contributed to service member’s recovery from mental and emotional disorders.

Music therapy is now used in a wide variety of forms to treat and ameliorate many conditions ranging from emotional trauma and mental health issues to developmental delays and speech and language impairments, to brain injuries and chronic pain. It is a particularly effective when used to treat individuals with complex or ongoing conditions that can benefit from therapies geared towards treating the whole person.

Welcome to the new Empowered Voice website

At The Empowered Voice, we are absolutely delighted to announce the launch of our brand new website: www.theempoweredvoice.org. This space will be a hub for information on music and voice therapy, using your voice for personal empowerment and how to strengthen the mind-body-voice-spirit connections!

The Empowered Voice was founded on a belief in the power of individuals and communities to change the world for the better. We invest in helping others discover their intuitive creative energy through liberating their voices – empowered and powerful.

Be sure to check out our list of services to find out how we can help you be the best you.

Be well everyone and welcome!

Voicing Emotion & Music Therapy for a Healthier Mind and Body

Music therapy, and use of the voice in particular, can be an ideal outlet for emotions of all types. Voice can combine multiple modes of expression. When we verbalize our feelings and put them to words, our voice lets us speak up and communicate what we feel. Developing a confident and strong voice when we talk about our feelings helps us value our own emotional experiences and needs, and demands a similar respect from those we communicate with about our feelings. Musical expression can also utilize the voice in a manner that is less verbal and more emotive, helping us experience and express things that cannot be put in words. Prayer, mantras, and chants can be aspects of spiritual practices that let us process feelings in relation to something greater than ourselves. The voice is even a form of physical expression. Speaking and singing relies on the breath, which is a physical act produced by movement of the diaphragm and even the entire core of the body. Getting this physical process moving can loosen the grip of tension-producing emotions like anxiety, or unsettle emotions like sadness that create a weight in the belly.

It is likely that at some point in our lives most of us have, either consciously or unconsciously, suppressed an emotion instead of releasing or expressing it. Sometimes this means holding negative feelings inside ourselves, where we fixate and ruminate on them, causing them to grow and become even more painful and difficult to deal with. Other times, we try to deny or ignore a feeling, shoving it deeper inside ourselves where it ends up taking root more firmly. This type of emotional behaviour can be motivated by any number of things, including fear of conflict, failure to value our own subjective experiences, or even simply being too busy to process every emotion fully. While we may get away with suppressing the occasional petty irritation or unreasonable pang of jealousy, sooner or later suppressed feelings will return to haunt us in some way or another. Sometimes it is as straightforward as picking a fight with your partner over something minor because you’ve been suppressing a more significant fear or frustration about your relationship. Other times the suppressed emotion might mutate, such as when insecurity turns to jealousy, or hurt to anger, making it hard to locate the original cause. Suppressed emotions can even impact physical well-being in ways that range from general tension in the body, tooth grinding, and stomach aches to more severe, even debilitating, psychosomatic conditions. For many of us, this can even be our habitual approach to dealing with our emotions, and expressing and releasing feelings in a healthier manner is something that has to be consciously learned.

Expressing emotions does not have to mean “dealing” with them, as if every negative emotion is a problem that needs to be solved, fixed, and made to go away. Sometimes talking through the same emotion repeatedly, examining it from every angle, is just another way to hang on to it and nurture it as it grows larger and harder to manage. Healthy expression of emotion helps to release and let go of the negative feeling, whether piece by piece or all in one go. Sometimes this process will also lead to practical changes in your life and relationships, but the process of feeling and releasing negative emotion in a healthful way is beneficial in and of itself. This can look different for different people, for different emotions, and for different circumstances but it always involves recognizing and acknowledging the emotion, allowing yourself to feel it as a real, but transient experience, and letting it leave your body in some way. Emotion can be released from the body in any number of ways, such as through naming and verbalizing it by telling someone, through artistic expression such as writing or painting, or even through physical expression such as yoga or a workout.

Finding a variety of methods for processing and releasing emotions is important for holistic well-being. Your voice can be a powerful and versatile tool that facilitates numerous modes of expression and emotional release.

The Voice as a Means of Self-Expression

The connection between the voice and self-expression may seem self-explanatory – indeed, using the voice is a key aspect to any form of verbal communication. However, there is an important distinction between ordering a meal and exploring the voice as a means of empowerment, affirmation, and healing analogous to the difference between expressing hunger or telling someone the time versus expressing sorrow or telling someone your story. In music therapy, therefore, the voice is regarded as an important tool for self-expression not only for its connection to verbal communication but because of its ability to explore and convey inner anxieties, emotions, experiences, memories, and identity.

Self-expression is crucial. It is key to communicating how we feel, our thoughts, opinions, needs, and wants. It allows for the release of emotions. It highlights individuality while allowing us to share, bond, relate, and empathize with others. In music therapy, therapists combine the importance of self-expression with the power of music to further dig deep into the individual’s emotional, physical, and spiritual experiences. Music opens the door to important verbal discussions as well as, and this will be the main topic of discussion in this article, singing in order to effectively empower and heal individuals through the use of the voice.

Singing can be a powerful, whole-body, emotional experience, and through encouraging individuals to sing, music therapists hope to help people get in touch with and articulate their feelings through an experience that is both creative and often pleasurable. Though singing may make individuals feel nervous or vulnerable, as many have difficulty overcoming the fear of sounding bad or making mistakes, working through this anxiety can have positive effects in itself, as often parts of the self are projected onto the voice and treatment of the voice. The hopeful end result of this process is the use of the voice as a way of empowering a person’s expressive and self-reflective capacities while providing them with a coping mechanism which draws on the individual’s inner resources in order to work through trauma, stress, anxiety, identity crises and insecurity.

By combining singing with music, individuals have the opportunity to be verbally expressive while being supported by music and all of its positive effects. Cognitive science has demonstrated that music engages the body and brain in ways that little else can, lighting up emotional, physical, and linguistic centres. The music’s character, therefore, has the ability to evoke emotions and memories, which can provide individuals with the opportunity to explore different aspects of the themselves and their experiences. By engaging the creative self in the growth and healing process, singing gives individuals the opportunity for holistic empowerment through its ability to promote self-expression.

What is Music Therapy?

We’ve all heard about the many amazing qualities of music, and chances are you’ve even experienced them for yourself. Music has the capacity to provide a non-verbal creative outlet that can benefit individuals both through its production and by its perception. The benefits of music are so tangible and profound that it is used as therapy to provide support and aid to a wide variety of individuals ranging in age, ability, background, and level of musical experience. It has been shown to improve health in many diverse areas, including cognitive functions, motor skills, emotional development, and social skills. It can facilitate interaction, self-awareness, communication, personal development, and self-expression. Therapies can be practiced in a group or one-on-one, and as such can promote both inter- and intra-personal growth. Music therapy takes a holistic approach to healing and improvement and works to address mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of participants in order to exercise the full potential of music’s health-promoting capacities.

The far-reaching benefits of music therapy mean that it can be used to address a wide variety of needs and is subsequently practiced in a number of diverse institutions. Music therapists can be found in hospitals, prisons, day treatment programs, community programs, long-term care facilities, schools, mental health facilities, substance abuse and addiction centres, and so on. Music therapy has the ability to improve the lives of individuals struggling from emotional trauma, developmental delays, brain injuries, mental health issues, speech and language impairments, and chronic pain. It is used in neonatal care, critical care, obstetrics, oncology, and palliative care. Because of music’s ability to treat the whole person, it is an effective therapy for those who may have complex, multiple, or ongoing concerns.

Therapy can be either active or receptive. Active music therapy involves creating music the instruments, their voice, or other objects, and allows for the patient to express themselves through art and sound. Receptive therapy is where the therapist plays music, and the patient listens while free to draw, move, or meditate. Generally, the types of therapies used is up to the discretion of the therapist.