Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Music as a Tool for Healing

Image from makingmusicmag.com
The New Directions Choir is an acapella group that sings in a range of styles and is comprised of men and women who have served in the United States Military.  Besides their love of music and their military service, one other trait  draws them all together.  All of the members have experienced homelessness.  According to George Hill, the choir’s director, the group hopes that through music they will be able “to let veterans who may be suffering know that there is hope for them.”  Through music the New Directions Choir wants to help others heal just as music helped them heal their own wounds.

The concept of music as a means for healing has been around since the days of Ancient Greece.  Plato once spoke on the mystical power of music saying:

Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything

While abstractly seen as a way of soothing the soul for centuries, music wasn’t formally recognized by western medicine as a means of healing until the 1900’s.  During this time musicians played in hospitals to help heal WWI and WWII veterans suffering from physical and mental trauma.  The doctors noticed physical and mental improvement after these visits, leading them to request that the hospital to hire musicians.  Since then music therapy programs have grown in strength and popularity.

One area where music therapy has been shown to be particularly useful is with veterans, like the members of New Directions Choir.  Due to the high stress and traumatic situations they may experience during their tours, soldiers are highly susceptible to certain mental conditions.  According to the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, mental illness is the second-largest illness area effecting veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  There is a wide range of different mental illness that affect veterans, but the most prevalent of those are depression, anxiety, and PTSD. 

Mental illnesses, beyond just being a health concern, can also affect a veteran’s family and work life.  In severe cases, the mental illness can make it almost impossible for a person to make connections and form relationships with the people around them, leaving them in a state of social poverty.  This social poverty is huge risk factor for homelessness. 

Research has shown the music therapy is a helpful tool in combating the social poverty that often leads many veterans to become homeless.  In a study in the Tennessee Medicine Journal, researchers found that music therapy was useful in “ensuring trust and moving individuals from isolation to community so that services can be provided” among a homeless veteran population.  Music often allows people to connect and communicate with others in a way that they are unable to simply with words. 

Bob Marley once said, "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain."  While music therapy may not, in fact, take away all of a homeless soldiers' pain, it may ease the hurt and make it easier to connect with the people around them.