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Good vibrations, music lends healing hand

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- Have you ever found yourself tapping your foot or bobbing your head when listening to upbeat music? It is nearly impossible for most of us to sit perfectly still when we hear a beat we like.

Similarly, a softer, slower rhythm can be calming and relaxing.

These involuntary motor responses to external rhythms are what researchers said led them to examine the idea of using music as a healing influence.

Recently begun here at Wilford Hall Medical Center, music therapy as a discipline started after World War I when community musicians of all types went to veterans’ hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the war.

The patients’ positive physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to ask for musicians in the hospitals; however, the musicians needed some training to make the process work properly, creating a demand for a college curriculum. The first music therapy degree program was begun at Michigan State University in 1944.

The American Music Therapy Association, founded in 1998, represents more than 5,000 music therapists. Association officials set the education and clinical training standards for music therapists.

Patients are often in a state of stress, officials said. Concern and worry because of their illness are compounded with unfamiliar noises, disruptive sleep patterns and loneliness.

Music therapy is used to alleviate pain in addition to anesthesia or pain medication, elevate patients’ moods and counteract depression, promote movement for physical rehabilitation, calm or sedate, counteract apprehension or fear, and lessen muscle tension.

“Therapeutic music is proven to increase the body’s production of endorphins, which promote a sense of both emotional and physical well-being,” said Staff Sgt. Hannah Pralle, a student in the medical center’s cardiopulmonary course who is pursuing certification in music therapy. “It can actually reach the patient on a cellular level, with vibrations effecting resonance and frequencies in the human body. The music promotes relaxation, which allows the doctor’s treatment to be more effective, speeding up the healing process.”

Sergeant Pralle is an Arizona Air National Guardsman. She has a bachelor’s degree in classical guitar performance from Northern Arizona University and has worked in the clinical music therapy setting for more than three years.

“Initially, as a music student in Arizona, I was looking for a place to play and came across a flier on music therapy,” she said. “As I looked into it, something just clicked, and I knew it was the right fit for me.”

Sergeant Pralle received her training in Flagstaff, Ariz. and began her internship.

She moved here in December to attend the 15-month course.

After settling into a routine as a student, she inquired about a music therapy program, hoping to volunteer her services.

She worked with Maryland Jones, the 59th Medical Wing’s volunteer services office director.

“Ms. Jones ... was already interested in the area of therapeutic music, having purchased CD and cassette players so music could be played for patients in the intensive care units. She was very much aware of the benefits of a therapeutic music program and worked directly with the hospital staff to set up the program,” Sergeant Pralle said.

"Sergeant Pralle’s dedication and enthusiasm were contagious,” Ms. Jones said. “We could see the music is (helping) the patients and that the program would add to the quality of care here.”

Music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities and cognitive skills through musical responses, officials said. They design music sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs.

“What I do is not a performance,” Sergeant Pralle said. “I’m like musical wallpaper. I try to blend into the setting, being as unobtrusive as possible. I play music at 60 beats per minute, the most therapeutic range.”

Just like trying to keep still when around fun, up-tempo music, breathing and heart rates will slow when exposed to external, periodic rhythms, she said. This triggers a relaxation response, benefiting the circulatory, nervous and digestive systems.

“I actually like it when my audience falls asleep,” Sergeant Pralle said. “Sleeping helps promote healing on a physical, spiritual and emotional level.”

For more information on music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association’s Web site.

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