Music therapy works

Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords used music therapy to recover from her shooting in January.

17.11.11

Words by: Charlie Jones

Though hard scientific data is still not conclusive on the effects of music therapy, evidence from the case of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head earlier this year, suggests the viability of music therapy as a healing process. Discovery reports:

Among the devastating consequences of her brain injury from a gunshot wound 10 months ago, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords lost the ability to talk. But with help from music-based therapy, according to an ABC News segment that aired this week, Giffords has rediscovered her voice and, it seems, her spirit.

The footage, which shows Giffords crying in frustration when she tries unsuccessfully to talk but looking joyful as she sings fluently, paints a dramatic picture of the power of music to help people overcome brain injuries.

Giffords’ story also highlights both the potential and the limitations of a fairly new field of medicine.

Music brings so much pleasure to our everyday lives, and it would make sense if music also worked as a healing tool. But scientists are still awaiting solid data to prove what seems to work in case study after case study.

“It used to be thought that music was a superfluous thing, and no one understood why it developed from an evolutionary standpoint,” said Michael De Georgia, director of the Center for Music and Medicine at Case Western Reserve University’s University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve just started to understand how broad and diffuse the effect of music is on all parts of the brain,” he added. “We are just starting to understand how powerful music can be. We don’t know what the limits are.”

Music has been used as a part of the healing process since time immemorial (Apollo was the ancient Greek god of healing and music, don’t you know), but its formal use began in the aftermath of WWII, and is used in the treatment of autism, speech defects and Parkinsons. Though its effects are only beginning to be understood, the suggestions are that the rhythmic and tonal patterns of music can, by using different parts of the brain, restore damaged brains to health.

What do you think? Have you had any experiences with music therapy? Can music play a part in the healing process?