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What is Music Therapy and How does it work?

Music Therapy

Music therapy includes procedures such as reflecting on, listening to, and producing music to improve a client's health and well-being. Engaging people in music can enable them to express themselves more easily, advance social and communication skills, identify and process painful experiences, or simply get an emotional release.

The practice is led by a board-certified music therapist and can occur in individual or group environments. It's often utilized in combination with other therapies or medications.

Music therapy works, but no one is assured how. Now, a fiction type of brain scan may give critical insight.

Music is a powerful thing. It makes the basis of a sort of therapy, the aptly named "music therapy."

During sessions, a music therapist attempts to create a bond with their client to improve well-being and develop confidence, awareness, communication skills, and attention.

There are certain types of music therapy. Some include merely listening to relaxing Song Lyrics  while speaking. Others include making music with tools, which can be especially useful for those who struggle to express verbally.

One type, known as the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), aims to promote discussion. The therapist plays music and asks the patient to explain the images that come to mind.

Trials have found advantages to music therapy, but how it works remains unclear.

Utilizing GIM as their focus, a team led by two experts from Anglia Ruskin University, in the United Kingdom — Clemens Maidhof, and Prof. Jörg Fachner Ph.D. — set out to get the answer. Their conclusions appear in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Discovering important moments

The purpose of a music therapist is to reach a "moment of change" in which they can establish their connection with their client. Therapists and patients often express the feeling in sync, and now there is evidence to justify it.

In the latest study, the researchers applied hyper scanning — a method that can simultaneously record two people's brain activities — to analyze a music therapist's session with a patient.

The method states lead author Prof. Fachner, "can give the tiny shifts that take place through therapy."

The therapist and patient wore EEG caps to record the electrical signaling in their brains, and the session was recorded. Eventually, the researchers wished to learn more about how the individuals interacted.

"Music, utilized therapeutically, can enhance well-being and treat conditions, including anxiety, autism, depression, and dementia. Music therapists have had to rely on the patient's response to decide whether this is working, but by applying hyper scanning, we can see precisely what is appearing in the patient's brain," says Prof. Fachner.

A clear connection

The team analyzed their results for overlap to see whether any points were of interest to all four participants. A couple of moments fell into this class.

With that information, Maidhof and Prof. Fachner examined the EEG readings from those moments. They paid particular consideration to the regions of the brain that prepare positive and negative sentiments.

Surprisingly, they came up with an image that shows a moment of change inside the brain.

When the client's brain turned from negative emotions to positive ones, their EEG recording showcased this. A few seconds later, the therapist's mind revealed the same pattern.

Both the therapist and client later recognized this moment as a point when they thought that the session was working. Not barely were their thoughts in sync, but their brain movement, too.

The researchers also noted improved activity in both participants' visual cortexes through these moments of change.

More effective therapy

It is unlikely that other case studies will provide the same results due to the personalized nature of the treatment. But more analysis will need to go into therapist-client connections before the synchronicity can be proved.

Still, Prof. Fachner explained the research as "a milestone in music therapy study."

He figures that the research has further suggestions than just proving a point. He describes, "By point out the precise positions wherever sessions have served best, it could be especially beneficial when managing victims for whom spoken conversation is challenging.

The conclusions could also make music therapy more productive by exposing when and how a therapist should interpose for maximum efficacy.

And, as Prof. Fachner remarks, researches such as this may "help [researchers] entirely understand emotional processing in other therapeutic interactions."

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