Even if you don’t consider yourself to be musically inclined, there’s no doubt that musical melodies hold a great deal of power. They can instantly set a mood or transport you back to a singular moment in time. Science has actually proven that music can invoke memories; not only can a familiar song or even a radio jingle take you back to your childhood, but it’s even been used to help those suffering with dementia diseases or other conditions reconnect with lost memories and get more in touch with their environment. In fact, music therapy may even hold the healing key for those with traumatic brain injuries and/or PTSD.
In a new paper published in Music Therapy Perspectives, the role of this therapeutic discipline is examined through the lens of military healthcare. While slip, trip, and fall injuries account for 25% of all personal injury claims reported in a given fiscal year, the injuries sustained in combat are usually much more severe — both physically and mentally. Even if members of the armed forces don’t come home with a battle wound that can be seen with the naked eye, they often have do contend with psychological harm as a result of their time in the line of duty.
PTSD and traumatic brain injuries are common in this sector — and they’re notoriously difficult to treat. There’s also a major stigma in military culture for receiving care and there have historically been limitations on treatment options within the military healthcare system; both factors often impede the ability for former members of the military to get the help they need.
Actually, music therapy was used in the U.S. Army as far back as 1945. Then, it was helped to recondition former members of the armed forces in hospitals, allowing them to transfer back to civilian life. But implementing creative therapies into military patient treatment regimens hasn’t always been an easy road. Still, experts say the efforts are worth it. Studies have found music can help rebuild connections between various parts of the brain — which is useful in cases of psychological trauma, which impacts processes in multiple brain regions.
Blast injuries and other TBIs can result in damage to connective tissue and white matter. While it may not seem like music could repair the brain, many patients with such injuries feel it’s been integral to their recovery. It’s a way for recovering service members to strengthen those neural pathways (which are responsible for reviving memories, stimulating speech and movement, and improving attention, multitasking, and concentration). Music therapy also allows these individuals to express their emotions and gain insight into their own condition. In some extreme cases, music is used to diagnose consciousness or help those in vegetative or comatose states to recover.
Hannah Bronson, one of the authors of the aforementioned paper, was quoted in the publication: “Music therapy is a dynamic treatment method for service members recovering from the invisible wounds of war. Building awareness of its benefits with this population can extend the power of music and its healing properties to many more men and women in uniform and their families.”
Whether a patient plays a musical instrument or simply listens to music via a Bluetooth speaker — a musical staple for many Americans of which 42 million units were sold in 2016 — the results can be astounding. Several participants from a music therapy group for brain injury survivors interviewed in a piece published on The Good Men Project’s website that music therapy has helped them with their auditory processing, motivation and positive thinking, pain and stress reduction, anxiety, mood, memory, and much more.
To some, it may seem a stretch that something as simple as playing some chords on a guitar or listening to a few songs could actually heal the mind. But science continues to prove just how powerful music can be.