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MIND and body

Music finding a place in health care

If you Google "medical myths" you might get some surprises. Late night snacking doesn't make us fatter and drinking eight glasses of water daily doesn't make us healthier. Who knew?

Many of us firmly believe another myth: Western medicine, largely based on drugs and surgery, is the only safe and reliable way to cure illness. This is beginning to change.

Case in point: Some medical professionals are finding that you can enhance your memory, reduce pain, alleviate depression and relax at the same time without drugs or surgery. How?

Turn on some music.

A Mayo Clinic blog notes, much research has been done on the physical and emotional effects of music. Some of the benefits that have been noted in research include:

• Enhances memory

• Reduces pain sensation

• Counteracts depression

• Encourages feelings of relaxation.

A report from Health magazine says: "Researchers from Drexel University found that cancer patients who either listened to music or worked with a music therapist experienced a reduction in anxiety. Music was associated with . . . benefits in mood, pain, heart and respiratory rates, and blood pressure, according to a systematic review by the Cochrane Collaboration, which evaluates primary research and evidence-based medicine."

Dr. Lisa Wong stands at the intersection of music and medicine. The pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital just finished a 20-year run as president of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra.

She is also the author of a new book, Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine. In a recent Boston Globe interview, Wong said:

"Music has a way of reaching a deeper core in a person than sometimes can be touched in any other way, even beyond words. With autistic children, with patients with Alzheimer's — people who have lost their verbal language still have musical language. Young [amputees] who don't want to put in an hour a day of occupational therapy will practice (a musical instrument) for 10 hours a day just to get things right. The music is driving them, and their executive function skills improve, their focus comes back, their self-esteem (builds)."

I remember the hopeless sadness I felt right after my dad's passing. I was looking out at a blurry, bleak landscape, trying to find my way out of the darkness. At one point I decided that listening to my father's favorite hymn, set to his favorite music, Beethoven's 9th symphony, might help. When the famous Ode to Joy in the fourth movement started up, I could hear the opening verse of the hymn, "Father, we thy loving children lift our hearts in joy today."

It felt like I was at the very source of all joy, and that joy was infinitely more powerful than grief. I felt the grief dissolve. It never returned.

There's no doubt in my mind that music can be a powerful healing force in our lives. Medical myths will continue to come and go. And research will continue to reveal healing solutions, like music, that shift the focus from the body to the mind and the spirit.

Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at

Music finding a place in health care 06/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 28, 2012 2:21pm]
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