BENGALURU : Music therapy is something that’s often misunderstood dramatically. I’ve met people who think that listening to the right kind of music can cure cancer, and people who think that music therapy is as scientific as an Ouija board. The truth lies, as it often does, somewhere between the two extremes. While using the term music therapy, it usually means the use of music to help with the physical, emotional, social or cognitive needs of a person. It is meant to be clinical and evidence- based practice.
When used in connection with proper medical care and treatment, music therapy has been shown to help people who have suffered strokes, or other brain injuries, as they try to relearn language. Many people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries suffer from aphasia, which means that speaking, reading and writing, overall language and communication, become affected. This usually happens because the left part of the brain which deals with language processing is damaged. What researchers have been studying, is how singing, which is a right brain activity, can help make up for the loss on the left side of the brain.
This is by no means a new discovery, the first reported case was in 1736, when Olad Dalin, a Swedish physician, saw a man who had lost the ability to speak, sing in church. The use of music therapy to treat aphasia is based on the concept of neuroplasticity - that the brain has the power to form new connections and pathways. In simple words, singing can bypass the injured left hemisphere, and use the right hemisphere of the brain to produce speech.
This is done under the care of a trained professional, where words are layered on top of melody and rhythm, in order to help people regain part of their ability to speak. And while singing primarily uses the right side of the brain, music in general uses both sides of the brain, so music therapy is also used to activate both sides of the brain. And although it must be noted that this sort of therapy can take years, and may not bring people back to their pre-injury communicative abilities, it isdefinitely something that is a useful tool. (The authors run SaPa - the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts)