Life-Changing Music


Life-Changing Music

October 15, 2018

By Karen Wilkinson, RN, NHA, CLNC – CareerSmart® Learning Contributor

Retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant Michael Schneider credits music therapy with saving his life.  After sustaining traumatic brain and central nervous system injuries in 2005 and 2006, he began to have seizures in 2013.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also complicated his picture.  He was moved to Walter Reed Bethesda for treatment, and that was when he met Rebecca Vaudreuil, a music therapist.  Master Sergeant Schneider related that music therapy helped him bypass his injury.  He stated, “I have, essentially, a 4-centimeter section of my right temporal lobe that doesn’t work, and I needed something to get around that section and relearn pieces and re-fire brainwaves, and music therapy was it.  And the person and the music were what helped me achieve what I have now.”  His story is not unique, and, since 2012, other service members have found help while rehabilitating from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and associated psychological issues through Creative Forces, a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and state and local agencies serving the military.  The NEA has found that creative arts therapies, including music therapy, have proven beneficial in ways that other integrated treatments cannot. 

Music therapy is a non-invasive, low-cost treatment option with multiple neurological, emotional, and physical benefits that cuts across the variables of age, race and gender.  According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”  When used as a healing therapy, the AMTA has found music therapy beneficial in lessening the effects of dementia, reducing episodes of asthma, reducing pain, increasing motor function in people with Parkinson’s, and improving speech in people with Autism.  Music therapy is not magic, but it may feel that way to someone who is able to release difficult emotions, whose communication is improved or restored, or whose motor function improves.

The National Institutes of Health and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts recently assembled experts to discuss the effect of music on the brain in the presentation, “Music and the Brain: Finding Harmony.”  Research breakthroughs and potential therapeutic applications for childhood, adulthood, and aging were discussed.  In the aging brain, for example, Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), which adds melody to the spoken word, and was found to change connectivity in the frontal and temporal lobes when observed by MRI.  I have observed MIT used with Alzheimer’s patients as a therapeutic treatment, with remarkable results that included uncommunicative residents singing and a reduction in agitation that lasted for several hours after the session.  In the workshop summary, Dr. Gottfried Schlaug from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School stated, “music profoundly changes the brain by modulating cognition, emotion, multisensory, and motor networks…this understanding is providing a foundation for promoting health and treating disease.”   Once thought to be only a complementary healthcare approach, music therapy is now receiving recognition as a true treatment option.

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  Cheever, T., Taylor, A., Finkelstein, R., Edwards, E. Thomas, L., Bradt, J., Holochwost, S.J., et al. (2017). NIH/Kennedy Center Workshop on Music and the Brain: Finding Harmony. Neuron: 97(6), 1214-1218, March 21, 2018.  DOI:

6  Cheever, T., Taylor, A., Finkelstein, R., Edwards, E. Thomas, L., Bradt, J., Holochwost, S.J., et al. (2017). NIH/Kennedy Center Workshop on Music and the Brain: Finding Harmony. Neuron: 97(6), 1214-1218, March 21, 2018.  DOI:

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