This article is from the Alternative Medicine Therapies guide.
Most people tend to experience a visceral reaction to music: a burst of energy upon hearing an upbeat song or a sense of calm during a soothing classical piece. Music therapy harnesses this connection between music and mood. Moreover, scientific studies show that music can affect physiological functions, such as respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure, as well. Music has also been shown to lower amounts of the hormone cortisol, which becomes elevated under stress, and to increase the release of endorphins, the body’s natural "feel-good" hormones.
Music therapists often use music to communicate. With its beat, melody, and lyrics, music is a kind of language in and of itself. Because of this, music therapy can be used to help the mentally and physically disabled express themselves. It can also encourage introverted patients to become more outgoing and can be used to draw schizophrenic and autistic patients out of their isolated worlds.
Music therapy can also be beneficial for stroke victims and other patients with neurological problems through a process called "entrainment." When patients listen to rhythmic music, their muscle movements become synchronized with the beat. As their motions become more regular and efficient, their motor skills improve in turn. Entrainment can also induce a sedative, relaxing response if the music has a slow, steady rhythm.
Music therapy can also distract patients from negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences. For example, the therapy has been effective at helping keep people's minds from dwelling on the pain of dental work, surgery, and labor.