Music and Mental Health
From Music Educators Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 (Nov. - Dec., 1953), pp. 66-70
By Edward Podolsky
Located on Jstor
Posted by Justine
This is a really old article but gives a great over view of how music can make the life of those in mental facilities a much more enjoyable experience. Many of the doctors who are discussed in this article believe that music is a great tool to use during group activities such as dinner. The article starts off with a great quote by Dr. Egbert Gurnsey who says, “If every hospital or asylum inducted into its staff a musical director, and if every physician and trained musician understood the nature and action of music, there is no telling the good that might be accomplished, the lives brightened and the tangled brains restored to harmony.” A while ago a superintendent of the State Hospital in Middletown, Conn., organized an orchestra to play during mealtime for 1300 patients. With this they were able to keep both men and women quiet, friendly, cheerful and orderly during mealtime. There is another instance when a women with dementia talked all day about her teeth and nothing could get her to stop talking about this. Finally they gave her some music to listen to and she did not mention one word about her teeth after that. As the musical treatment continued she gradually became more normal. In 1945 Dr. W. Simon organized a program of music therapy for one of the hospitals in the Veterans Administration. Mental patients were exposed to music, which then lead some of them to become performers. These patients then formed a band of about 25 players who would play all around the hospital for their own and the other patient’s enjoyment. The music became a therapeutic agent for not only those listening to the music but also playing it. The concerts aided in distracting the patients from abnormal thoughts and replacing them with normal emotional feelings. Those who played instruments in the concerts practiced coordination of nerve and muscle and gained self-confidence and an outlet for self-expression and creativity. Depressed patients were uplifted and gained a better connection with reality. Mary Jane Preston found that group singing is important in any musical program because those patients who usually don’t like to talk will sing along with others in a group. Dr. Altschuler suggests that using music closest to the mood of the patient is most effective. Depressed patients are more aroused by an andante tempo and maniacal patients with allegro. Maintaining patients’ attention to music will be more easily achieved by using music that appeals more to lower brain levels.
Well, even though this article is ancient, it still has so much truth in it. It is quite amazing to read something from so long ago and then to realize that really not much in terms of music therapy has changed. I mean music therapy is a topic that is still not as exposed in hospitals and schools as much as it probably should be. From what I know, insurance does not cover it and it can be costly. Doctors are in the know about it but some won’t even consider it as part of their practice since it is an abstract subject compared to medicine. If the government only realized how effective music is for people, we could solve a lot of problems in this world. This article demonstrates how powerful music is on the mind. The mind is a very powerful organ and when it is uncontrollable like it is for some mentally ill patients nothing can stop it but the most powerful drugs. Yet we see how a lady with dementia is immediately affected by music as though she had been sedated. How can music be this powerful? I find this truly amazing. Another amazing aspect is that it doesn’t just work for some and not for others; everyone is affected by music in one-way or another. In the article an orchestra playing music during dinner calmed down a group of 1300 mentally ill patients in a room. Now tell me that music isn’t powerful! I think that using music that is around the same level of mood of the patient is a smart way to reach the patient emotionally since sound is so powerful. If we are depressed that last thing we want to hear is some happy go lucky song about how great life is! The goal to music therapy is to reach inside a person and make them feel comfortable and safe. Since music is so powerful, we never want to threaten a person with music, especially for those who are mentally and emotionally weak. Music that is soothing and will not cause tension or anxiety is best suited to those who need to relax their minds.