Music Therapy: Sound as an Adjunct Therapy

Sound is used as an adjunct therapy in helping people recover from strokes and head injuries. It eases the side effects of chemotherapy – it’s especially effective in controlling nausea and pain. In operating rooms it’s often used to help relax patients and stabilise their body systems.

German studies show that in up to 60 percent of those cases, less anaesthesia is required. Music also has become an increasingly popular therapeutic modality in nursing homes, schools, prisons, daycare centres and spas.

Research shows it to be effective in relieving pain and frustration in people with Alzheimer’s, AIDS, autism, trauma, substance abuse, learning disabilities and a host of non-specific physical, emotional and mental impairments. As evidence of how accepted this work has become, Medicare often covers music therapy for patients who have Alzheimer’s, are recovering from strokes or learning to walk again.

The work of Mitchell Gaynor, MD, is further proof that sound therapy has infiltrated the mainstream. His credentials are of the highest order: He’s the director of medical oncology and integrative medicine at New York’s Strang Cancer Prevention Centre, a 66-year-old academic medical centre affiliated with the Cornell Medical Centre, where the Pap smear was invented.

In addition to performing conventional cancer treatment (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy), Gaynor runs an ongoing, biweekly support group that utilises guided imagery, meditation and sound, voice and tone.

“Breathing is critical to absolutely everything that produces well-being, yet doctors tend to overlook it,” he says. “Besides their vibrational impact, voice and tone are just another way to get the therapeutic value of breathing.

“Five years ago, a Tibetan monk came to see me as a patient,” Gaynor continues, “and he gave me a Tibetan bell. The first time I heard that sound, I knew it would change my life.”

With the monk’s help, Gaynor located some Tibetan “singing” bowls, which are used in many Himalayan cultures to induce meditative states. For the past five years he’s been leading his cancer support groups through guided meditations to the sounds created by the Tibetan and quartz crystal bowls. Though Gaynor hasn’t conducted clinical studies to measure the group members are unanimously thrilled with the results.

“People identify with the bowls’ pure tone and have profound relaxation responses,” Tibetan singing bowls have he says. They tell me that worse than the cancer itself is the fear that they have no control over their futures. The relaxation they experience from the sound and meditation makes them more hopeful.” Once they have hope, he adds, they often take more active steps towards their healing.

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