Music therapy aids healing of military personnel

A new paper in the journal Music Therapy Perspectives examines the importance of music therapy in military healthcare. There has been an increase in music therapy to treat combat-related injuries in recent years. With this growth in the use of the therapy, the authors of this article believe it's important for practitioners to publish information about effective music therapy treatment models for use in military settings.

The Military Healthcare System is presented with significant challenges following recent conflicts. With advances in military medicine and technology, survival rates are higher and more service members leave combat with psychological injuries, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Such injuries present complex difficulties for treatment because of overlapping symptoms due to multiple health conditions, stigma of receiving care in military culture, and treatment options available within the Military Health System.

Integrating creative arts therapies in military treatment can present challenges. To overcome such issues and ensure consistent, high quality treatment the authors believe it's important for music therapists and military treatment facilities to share program models and intervention protocols. In addition, they argue that publications of program evaluation and patient outcome data are needed in order to further validate program models, expand implementation, and provide research evidence. The paper outlines the current program models at two facilities, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Intrepid Spirit Center at Fort Belvoir.

Research has shown that creative arts therapies improve patient outcomes for military patients. Blast injury often results in damage to white matter and connective tissue, and psychological trauma resulting in PTSD disrupts processes in multiple brain regions, heightening some systems and deactivating others. Studies suggest that music can impact multiple neural networks simultaneously and can assist with rebuilding connections between various regions of the brain. Studies also show that the brain releases dopamine while people listen to music. This promotes motivation, learning, and reward-seeking behavior. Thus, listening to music can create an enhanced learning environment and rebuild damaged neural connections.

"Music therapy is a dynamic treatment method for service members recovering from the invisible wounds of war," said Hannah Bronson, one of the paper's authors. "Building awareness of its benefits with this population can extend the power of music and its healing properties to many more men and women in uniform and their families."