In the final presentation in the “Music, Mind, and Brain” series, Nyomi Washington spoke to us about audioanalgesia, music, and pain. In a nursing home she discusses, music therapists were invited to work closely with patients suffering from conditions which can cause pain, such as schizophrenia. The therapists worked with the patients by having them write and sing songs about their conditions, and they danced and sang alongside the patients. Nyomi also mentions the more common uses of music to alleviate pain. When one is sad or upset, one may listen to music on their iPod to distract themselves. This is the same idea in mind when doctors offices play music on the waiting room radios for the patients.
Music therapy is defined as “the use of music and its elements to treat pain” with or without trained professionals. More often this field is limited to trained professionals, but Nyomi argues that these trained professionals are not actually a necessary component of the field. There are both passive and active forms of using music as a therapeutic tool, and both can be used by anyone, professional or not. Passive treatment would include listening to music. Active treatment, on the other hand means being more involved; music therapists get patients involved by encouraging them to sing and dance to music.
The “Gate Theory of Pain” further explains the science behind why music therapy works. This theory describes the ways in which pleasure can override pain in the brain. While the pain in your body is not erased, the brain will naturally focus more on the pleasurable aspects. Nyomi emphasizes that it is important to listen to something you enjoy, however. As it turns out, listening to music that is not pleasurable to you will constrict blood vessels in the brain, causing the body to feel even more stressed (and likely in pain) than before.
There are many explanations as to why music is helpful in alleviating pain, and Nyomi ends by stating that there are many more avenues to explore in this field.