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How music therapy heals the body, mind, and soul

by Niranjana Mittal

Music to your ails.

By: Ayush Madan

What do you picture when you think of therapy? Many of us are familiar with the term in the traditional sense. Cognitive behavioural therapy, for example, involves going to see a psychiatrist and re-evaluating our belief systems to understand the past, alter our present, and improve our future. Meanwhile, physical therapy involves carefully adjusting and activating muscles and joints in our body to reduce inflammation and better our health. But what if I told you that music, played in the right way by the right individual, could not only improve your mental health, but your physical and emotional health too?

Music therapy has a history that goes back all the way to the Greek myths. It is no coincidence that Apollo was both the god of medicine and music. In fact, both Aristotle and Plato emphasised that healing sounds could better the mind and the body. Since the 1940s, with the formation of the American Music Therapy Association, the benefits that music therapy can have on individuals have been thoroughly explored and recorded. Not only can it reduce stress, improve working memory, lower blood pressure, and reduce anxiety, it can also help manage pain. Music therapy is best suited for those individuals who have trouble with verbal communication. Since these individuals would not be able to accurately describe their problems to a psychiatrist, music becomes the medium through which they are able to have the most relief. Presently, the Department of Medical Services is planning to conduct a study with the Mahidol College of Music to boost the efficiency of Thai traditional music in therapy. Doctors and psychiatrists will work together with musicians and researchers to make this form of therapy more effective. 

To gain further insight, Masala spoke to an exchange music therapy student in Mahidol University about the state of music therapy in Thailand and across the world.


Florida Gulf Coast University Summer Study Abroad Course 2023, Mahidol Music Therapy Programme







Music therapy seems to be a growing field globally. How popular is music therapy (MT) in Thailand, compared to your home country?

In Thailand, I would say music therapy is less known for sure, but even in the US I rarely ever meet people who know what it is. I believe the current number of actual certified MTs in the US is still less than 10,000 despite the rapidly growing market for it.

Can you share some examples of how music therapy can be used to help people from different cultures or with different health challenges?

Just like how a lot of medicine/medical procedures are done similarly in hospitals all over the world, certain MT techniques and interventions can help people of different cultures as well. One such intervention I used in Thailand was at Golden Jubilee in the Physical Rehab ward. We used gait training interventions where we would walk with a client who was struggling with locomotion, and we would play a simple strumming pattern alongside a metronome while slowly increasing the BPM to help them become steadier, and achieve a quicker and more consistent walking speed.

Can you describe a specific success story you’ve witnessed or been part of while practicing music therapy?

I would consider this experience, which I also had in Thailand, to be one of the most personally impactful moments of music therapy. We had a session in the Palliative Care Unit of Siriraj Hospital where we gently played music and sang traditional Thai music to a ptient. Before this session, it was estimated that she only had a maximum of 72 hours left to live. She could not respond to us at all, and her two sons were in the room with us.

As we began playing the music and creating our gentle soundscape, one of the sons got emotional and left, while the other stayed. Our teacher, Ajarn Khan, invited the son to hold his mother’s hand. During our time there, the only thing we could hear from the mother was a light vocalisation whenever she breathed, which sounded like it was coming from tension in her throat. Towards the end of the session she continued to breathe, but her breath was a little slower and there was no more sound, and we took that to mean that she was able to relax a little.

Once we finished our session and left the room, our teacher and professor were pulled aside. We later learned that the client had passed away within a few minutes of our leaving. That was a very powerful moment for me, and by the way the son who stayed looked at us, I believe that was an invaluable moment for him. Music therapy in this type of setting is often used for not just the client, but for their family too.











Is music therapy readily available in Thailand? What are some challenges people might face in accessing it?

In Thailand, I would say the problem is the same as it is in the US, namely, accessibility with a high demand. There simply aren’t enough music therapy programmes around either country, meaning there aren’t enough music therapists either. But it is a rapidly-growing field!

Are there any cultural misconceptions about music therapy you would like to clear up for our readers?

I’m not sure if there are any unique Thai misconceptions regarding music therapy that are different from many American ones; however, from my understanding there a lot of similar misconceptions, foremost being that we are simply performers providing music and nothing more. But that could not be further from the truth, as music therapy takes a lot of practice, study, and trial and error to learn. Providing therapeutic musical interventions for so many different populations of clients is truly no easy feat, so I hope to see our hard work more generally acknowledged! For any of our readers I would like to ask that you keep your mind open to the beautiful possibilities of music therapy if it’s offered or recommended to you or a loved one.

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