The astounding, positive effects of music on the brain are still being discovered and applied to various studies that involve different physical, emotional and neurological disorders. Music therapy has been part of these different treatment plans for years, with great results in rehabilitating and assisting with the development of skills that were lost due to accidents or disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's Disease.
Listening to music can help alleviate pain and depression, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety. Researchers are just beginning to understand the reasons for these effects in humans, but it has been noted that music increases the dopamine levels in the brain, lifting mood, reducing pain and generally encouraging an overall feeling of wellness. Research points to the different responses people have when listening to their favored music, regardless of genre, compared to pre-programmed play lists chosen by therapists. Those who were able to hear their favorite songs exhibited a stronger response to the music and higher levels of dopamine, and as the favorite songs continued playing, these levels increased. This research is important, especially for those with disorders characterized by low levels of dopamine, such as Parkinson’s Disease, a low sex drive, depression or even autism and ADD/ADHD.
For the autistic or physically disabled patient, the benefits of music therapy are somewhat easier to understand. The close proximity of the auditory cortex to the motor cortex in the brain enables music therapy to bridge the connection between music and movement. By instituting a treatment plan that encourages dance, drumming or other motor functions coupled with music, these two areas of the brain are stimulated together, helping to achieve more physical action through a less intimidating means. Music therapists who are able to integrate music in occupational, speech or physical therapy programs may find more success than with standard music therapy alone. The success of a music therapy treatment plan may rest on a simple rhythm played on a djembe.
With the advances that are constantly developing through music therapy programs in schools, outpatient clinics and hospitals, the promise for a safe and effective therapeutic approach to neurological, emotional or physical disorders can be seen in the daily improvement of those who are the lucky recipients of these programs.