Today, music therapy is most commonly used for people undergoing a cardiac procedure and for those recovering from a heart attack or learning to cope with heart failure or other cardiovascular condition.
At the Mayo Clinic, for example, the Healing Enhancement Program offers music (along with massage and relaxation therapies) for people having heart surgery. “We encourage patients to listen to music before, during, and after surgery,” says Susanne Cutshall, a clinical nurse specialist who heads the program. Studies there indicate that music helps ease pain and anxiety and blocks out distracting or disturbing hospital sounds. The program’s team is working with Chip Davis, founder and leader of the rock group Mannheim Steamroller, to create relaxing music that includes sounds from nature. “This soothing music makes you feel like you are outside in a large, open space instead of confined to a hospital room,” says Cutshall.
Another important application of music therapy is helping people cope with a cardiovascular condition, whether they are recovering from a heart attack or living with angina, heart failure, or claudication. “Heart disease can be very stressful, and makes some people feel as though they have little control over their lives,” says Suzanne Hanser, who chairs the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Music therapy can alleviate stress, provide a pleasant coping strategy, and impart a feeling of control, she says.
There are several ways to let music into your heart. One is to work with a music therapist or a music healer. Think of a music physician as a guide, someone who can help you find the music that evokes from you the most relaxing responses as well as the most positive ones. He or she may help you become a more active listener, using music to help you ward off negative thoughts, release anxiety, and summon energy. A music healer may also encourage you to make music with bells, drums, your voice, or other instruments.
Do-it-yourself music therapy is another option. Find some music that makes you feel good. Pick some calm, relaxing pieces, as well as a few stimulating ones. If you are feeling stressed, sit and listen to the soothing music for 20 minutes or so. If you need a pick-me-up, play something energizing. Observe how the music makes you feel, and give in to those emotions. “The goal,” says Dr. Suzanne Hanser, “is to stop thinking of music as a treatment and make it an essential part of your everyday life.”