Music therapy used to help emotional, physical pain

Ronald M. Borczon, professor and director of the Music Therapy Wellness Clinic, talks to reporter, Kelsey Earl, about what entails Music Therapy and the benefits to students both mentally and physically. (Ellen Choi / The Sundial)

Since music started, it has entertained and brought many people together. Now, music is being used as a therapeutic outlet for students in need. This type of progressive therapy involves listening to music or playing an instrument with the help of a trained therapist.

“The emotional benefits are usually that people can find a cathartic release,” said Ron Borczon, music therapy professor. “For those people that can’t find words to express their emotion, the music can provide a means to channel that energy to express the emotion.”

Listening to music can benefit people of all ages both emotionally and physically. Emotionally, it can help with anxieties, developmental disabilities or trauma a patient has endured. Physically, music is used to help people when they are abiding pain or have a serious injury.

Hospitals have also begun using this therapy as a way to distract their patients from pain or upcoming procedures. This is beneficial for children who are in the hospital as well, because music gives them something to focus on.

Playing an instrument is another way of receiving music therapy benefits. Instruments require dedication and focus, which can be of relief for a patient in need.

“There is a thing called the gate control theory where the more you get distracted, the less pain you experience, or at least perceive,” Borczon said. “It’s not so much a matter of taking the pain away. It’s the perception of the pain that’s there being lessened.”

Music therapy programs began after the world wars, and research started being conducted in the 50s. These programs were created after specialists observed a positive change in veterans at Veterans Affairs’ homes through music.

Now, music therapy programs have expanded and are directed using varied genres of music, depending on the patient.

Diverse genres of music are accepted in music therapy. The patients are the deciding factor for what they are going to listen to or play. The music depends on what is most essential for the patient.

“It is a program of a lot of growth. I am definitely a much different person then I was when I started a year and a half ago,” said music therapy student Majesca Wong, president of the Music Therapy Association. “You learn a lot about yourself and you learn why you want to use music to help people, because of how it helped you.”

Different studies have proven this type of therapy to work. Pain levels in patients have been shown to decrease after listening to music with a therapist. Music is also shown to help with a patient’s recovery and self awareness.

“[Music therapy can do] things that might not be able to be done with talk therapy, because music just accesses this part of your soul and this part of your being that words can’t,” Wong said.

Although music is being used as a positive source of support, there is always a chance of a negative side effect.

“Music has such a powerful connection to your emotions,” Wong said. “If you really relate a certain piece of music or a certain song to a really negative feeling or memory, and your therapist doesn’t know that, it can absolutely cause negative emotions or a negative reaction.”

The music therapy program at CSUN focuses on a small number of students. The major offers a class in the fall open to all students. There is also a club on campus called the Music Therapy Association of Northridge where they host events and have guest speakers.