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The Healing Power of Music Therapy: Inspiration from One Who Knows

Posted on 02/23/15 by Ronna in Music Therapy

Staff of the Center for Music Therapy at The Music Settlement recently hosted a presentation by Dr. Richard Fratianne, Director Emeritus of the Comprehensive Burn Unit at MetroHealth Hospital. Not only has “Dr. Frat” (as he likes to be called) benefited from music therapy himself following major cranial surgery to remove a brain tumor, but he has been a champion believing in and supporting music therapy and music therapy research in the medical setting! In fact, in 2010 he received the American Music Therapy Association‘s Music Therapy Advocate of the Year award, an award that, as AMTA President at the time, I felt privileged to present to him.

Following his own surgery, Dr. Frat had to prove he was capable of performing surgery before he could resume directorship of the Burn Unit. Structuring therapy services around a renewed focus on his piano skills, Dr. Frat's Board Certified Music Therapist joined a team of other professionals in guiding him to enable rapid improvement across speech, cognitive, and physical coordination skills. With the strong support from his music therapist and the entire team across these domains, Dr. Frat was thereby able to resume full clinical activity!

Dr. Frat spearheaded targeted efforts of his team of doctors, nurses and Music Settlement music therapists over the course of several years to show the positive effects of three music therapy protocols for patients before, during, and after burn dressing changes. Excitingly, a key "take-away" from Dr. Frat's talk was this: Music has the unique capacity to activate and integrate all three levels of brain activity.

  • At the brain stem level, important in controlling involuntary functions like breathing, sleep, and circulation, through the intervention of entrainment, the tempo of the music was matched with a patient’s breathing, thereby achieving a slowed respiratory rate and inducing progressive muscle relaxation.
  • At the limbic system, or midbrain level, where we have the expression of mood and emotion and emotional responses to pain, among other types of stimuli, music based imagery, a form of music-assisted relaxation with patient-specific mental imagery, can relieve a person’s sense of suffering.
  • Finally, at the neocortex level, where higher functions “that make us human” (such as sensory perception, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language)occur, as Dr. Frat says , the intervention of alternate musical engagement, active participation in music making, helps reduce the patient’s perception of pain.

Dr. Frat further emphasized that severe burns can destroy all four parts of personhood: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. He inspired us to remember and practice what he preaches: Music therapists can and do make a difference in helping reestablish a person’s dignity, self-esteem, self-confidence, and feelings of being lovable, especially through a team approach and creation of an environment of openness, trust, confidence, empathy, and compassion. Definitely words and knowledge to live by…

If you are interested in more information about music therapy and the brain or the specific research conducted at MetroHealth’s Burn Unit, please feel free to check out the following:

Tan, X., Yowler, C. J., Super, D. M. & Fratianne, R. B. (2010). The Efficacy of Music Therapy Protocols for Decreasing Pain, Anxiety, and Muscle Tension Levels During Burn Dressing Changes: A Prospective Randomized Crossover Trial. Journal of Burn Care and Research, 31 (4), 590-597.

Taylor, D. B. (2010). Biomedical foundations of music as therapy, 2nd edition. Eau Claire, Wisconsin: Barton Publications.

To learn more about music therapy in other domains or about what other music therapy services are available through The Music Settlement, visit the following websites:

www.musictherapy.org

www.themusicsettlement.org

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