The sound of music – a healing therapy

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Awkward and shifty-eyed, Raghav Salooja reluctantly enters the room that has a generous display of percussion instruments, dodges his doctor’s gaze, half sits on a chair and begins to blankly stare at the wooden flooring. Half an hour into some peppy music, the 11-year-old makes a rare eye contact.

Welcome to the world of clinical music therapy where hundreds like Salooja are being cured of personality and other disorders through the sound of music. The therapy works on the premise that every human being responds to music.

Somesh Purey

“We believe that every human being has an innate ability to respond to music. Every one can clap in an aarti. This ability is never impaired in any kind of illness,” Somesh Purey, a music therapist at The Music Therapy Trust situated in south Delhi, told IANS.

The Music Therapy Trust, accredited to have introduced the first clinical music therapy network in India, was set up by Canada-born Britain-based Margaret Lobo in 2005.

A musical talent, Margaret Lobo paralysed one of her vocal chords at the age of 20 and was told that she would never be able to sing again.

Margaret Lobo

“For seven years, I did not make any attempt to sing. Then someone recommended a teacher and I underwent four years of training. And soon, I started singing again. After that, singing was not that important. I wanted to use that training to help others. So, I set up a charity in the UK,” 70-year-old Margaret Lobo told IANS on phone from London.

An amalgamation of psychology, psychiatry, mental health and counselling sealed with music, the therapy helps cure conditions like autism, mental disorders, depression and personality issues to life-threatening diseases like HIV and cancer.

In India, music has long been revered as a great healer as some ragas are said to have therapeutic components.

Be it the soothing sound of a flute, the soulful melody of a harmonium or the brazen freshness of a guitar, music manages to calm strained nerves and lift up low-lying spirits in the toughest times.

According to Somesh Purey, there are no prescribed rules as to what music works for a particular medical condition.

“The same piece of music can affect people differently. A person’s association and perception of music defines what works best for him. If you have nice school memories associated with a song, it’s likely to a have a positive effect on you,” Somesh Purey said.

The therapy works in two stages: assessment and re-assessment.

In the first stage, spanning 8-10 sessions, a patient’s response to music is assessed. His emotional, social, cognitive, physical and communication skills are analysed and accordingly a goal is formed for the next stage.

Somesh Purey said the first session could go extremely unpredictable. “Sometimes a child just runs away while another will sit and listen.”

The next stage involves either listening to live or pre-recorded music, or creating or recreating music. Each session costs Rs 500.

Hollywood, Bollywood, Western, Classical — it doesn’t matter what is played. What matters is the music’s tempo, volume and texture.

“If someone is depressed and we play Tambura, he will get more depressed. The need is to play some peppy energetic music. Fast beats and loud sound have an uplifting energy. In wars, Nagada (kettle drums played with sticks) used to be played to motivate and alert the mind,” said Somesh Purey.

“In spas, slow music with medium tempo is played as the idea is to relax. Every sound works in its own way to reach us,” said Somesh Purey, who works with children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and self-esteem issues.

Wind instruments like flute are considered to be more soothing. String instruments have an aesthetic tonal quality while metal sound can energise as well as irritate.

Though The Music Therapy Trust also deals with terminally ill people suffering from stage five cancer, Somesh Purey admitted that the therapy is not a guarantee to curing disease.

“It’s not instant coffee, it’s not the promise of 100 per cent results but it contributes to overall development of the client,” Somesh Purey added.

The Music Therapy Trust associates with NGOs working for slum kids, schools, and corporates, besides providing a part-time two-year diploma course in clinical music therapy. Lucanne Magill, a qualified music therapist from the US, is the course tutor.

When asked what are the qualities required in a good music therapist, Lucanne Magill said, “Compassion, desire and love to work with people, some life experiences that help them to be able to adapt in challenging situations, ability to listen and has to be musically trained.”

by Mohita Nagpal

Categories: RESEARCH

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