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Benefits of music therapy is backed by research

We’ve all experienced music’s ability to influence our mood but growing research shows that the benefits are more far-reaching. From helping to ease anxiety in dementia patients, positively impacting behaviours for at-risk youth and adult offenders, and helping women undergoing gyneacological and fertility treatment, music therapy in the clinical setting is on the rise.

As only one of two universities in Australia offering an accredited masters-level course in Music Therapy, Western Sydney University is putting its focus on continuing research in this area.

Dr Alison Short

“Our focus is on applying music in an evidence-based manner and research is critical to this,” explains Dr Alison Short, Senior Lecturer of Music Therapy and course leader.

Since initial music therapy training in Australia and completing her Masters in Music therapy in New York in 1987, Dr Short has spent the last 39 years practising, teaching and researching music therapy.

Dr Short is the lead author of WSU’s white paper “Sounding out: music for health and wellbeing” which examines the broad range of music and health research that the university undertakes in seeking to expand the reach of music and music therapy with benefits to all people.

Some of the current projects include developing guidelines for the use of music with people with dementia, looking at ways to foster engagement and interaction with music activities for families needing early intervention and children with autism, and ways to decrease anxiety for women undergoing IVF and fertility treatment.

As with all research, there are some challenges for music therapy researchers. One of these challenges includes trying to uncover ‘dosage’ issues. That is, how best to quantify which music should be used, when, where and for whom. Coupled with these challenges are the unique experiences and preferences that individuals have around music. Some research shows that selecting their own music can help people manage their pain while other research shows that, for some people, self-selection may result in choosing music that contributes to feelings of depression.

“Whilst self-selection of music may contribute to feelings of depression, your personal preferences are key in boosting pain tolerance and fighting stress,” explains Dr Short.

With the current crisis, you might be asking what music will help alleviate stress?

“The general characteristics of relaxing music are known to include a soothing melody, a gentle accompaniment and a relatively slow beat,” says Dr Short.

“Music has the capacity to touch every part of us – physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially and spiritually – and there isn’t anything else I’d rather do than practice, teach, and research music therapy.”