Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Expanding understanding

As the only non-music therapy major here, I feel like I am not only uneducated about music therapy, but had a false notion about what music therapy truly is. I became more interested in music therapy this last semester; my first semester of college was the only time I had not been involved with my violin since I started playing in the first grade. Until then, I never realized how much I would miss playing it. As an exercise science major, I plan to go into physical therapy, focusing on an alternative or holistic approach. My mother brought to my attention the existence of music therapy as a field, and how I could incorporate that into physical therapy. I started researching more about it, and from what I read it looked very interesting and beneficial. To me it was a route that would incorporate both of my passions into one area of study and practice.
I learned that music therapists commonly incorporate African drums as well, and as I have also been playing African drums off and on since fourth grade, it was very important to me. I know African beats and dances are all focused around the heartbeat, controlling rhythm, and are relatable to every living being.
I have also read about different melodies or pieces that can change an individual’s brainwaves to specifically help the person reach a certain mood or mindset. This goes along with chanting as well, or the use of Tibetan bowls, which send off vibrations for therapeutic effects. I do not yet know if it has something to do with how we perceive and interpret the vibrations that make the sounds, rhythms, and tones so therapeutic, but this is something about which I would love to learn more.
It was not until I arrived in Thailand with another group of students for study abroad experience about healthcare in Thailand that I realized I did not know exactly what music therapy was. I have now been in Thailand over a month. For the first two weeks, I learned about Thailand’s health care as well as Chiang Mai University’s nursing school. We had the opportunity to talk with doctors of all specialties: alternative, psychiatric, HIV, etc. When I toured the hospitals in Chiang Mai, they showed us the “music therapy program” for some of these patients. This consisted of a band playing in a big room for the patients. My whole view of the degree changed when they told me their idea of music therapy and I became slightly disappointed. However, once I joined this group, I learned music therapy is very useful with helping children, elderly, and the disabled. I can see how it works conjointly with physical therapy as well as occupational therapy.
Nevertheless, my area of interest is working with athletes. As much as I love working with children, or even athletes in the Special Olympics, I would really like to work with sports injuries and prevention/rehabilitation in respect to athletes. I recently asked Dr. Dena if there was any information of the use of music with regards to athletes, and I learned that this is an area that is not well researched yet. However, I would LOVE to research how music could be self healing for patients not only recovering, but for going into surgery, or coming out of surgery, or for calming nerves down before a big competition, etc. I would even be interested in the research for meditation (specifically for injuries/pain levels/mental rehabilitation) and the rhythm of concentration on the breath. I think learning about that would be very beneficial for my area of interest.
I can say my perspective of music therapy has flipped a 180, and I feel like the more I think I know what I want to do with my life, the more I get confused! I am excited to see what else this trip will offer me and what I will take home with me for my future. As for you, the reader, I’m curious to know if and how your perspective of music therapy has changed for you during the time that you have known about music therapy?


  1. Oh YES! My view of music therapy is always changing, and I work as a music therapist in a school district. I would say that even while I was in college, I was continually learning more and soaking it all in, trying to understand it and make sense of it all, and my perspective was continually changing. But that's how it should be- the work that I'm doing now will likely look much different from the work I will be doing in 20 years, because we'll get better at what we do, we'll find out what does and doesn't work, new research and evidence will come out which will change my perspective. We never want to stay stagnant. Change is a good thing. :) Glad you're on the trip with the MT people- hope you enjoy it!!

  2. Can't wait to read more from your perspective as an exercise science major! Music folks live in a very different world, and I hope it's one in which you feel welcome!

  3. Great Post Sarah! It's really great to hear about your both your experiences and your growth alreay in this process. If you continue to have music therapy in your life, I wonder what you will think even if you come back to this in 10 years and read about what you thought about the field! I heard about music therapy only just before I decided to switch my major from music education to music therapy-- I knew it was the right thing. But the difference between what I understood then and what I understand now is phenomenal. In 2008, when I heard about MT, I thought it sounded like something that "made sense", even after hearing the title. But to now understand how much music therapy "makes sense" after reading all the reasearch that indicates it's benefits just further-solidifies my choice. My perspective has even changed already on this trip--today-- after trying to use the music without language (in front of the group knowing only about 10 Thai words). I am so glad you are on this trip with us :) And I hope we can have some convserations so I can have a better perspective about physical therapy as well.

  4. Thank you guys for the comments! It's nice to know I am not the only one with a changing perspective! I'm sure by the end of this trip and through the years of research, everyones view may change a little bit :)

  5. Sarah, you're such a joy to have on this trip and I'm so gald you came with us! It's exciting to watch you grow on your journey of learning about music therapy, too =^) I hope you can use some of what you're learning here to implement in your future work with physical therapy!

  6. Sarah, I am so happy you're on this trip with us -- and not just because you're always so much fun to be around. Your feedback and perspectives as someone whose college education has not been focused around MT are SO helpful. You see things we don't and ask questions we wouldn't think to ask and it's so great! And I'm glad that MT is having an impact on you and it would be beyond cool if you researched ways to incorporate music into your PT work. And yes, my perspective of MT is always changing as more possibilities are presented to me and as I read more and more research. I feel like the PT and MT fields are very similar in that respect