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The Calming Sound of Music Therapy Aims to Silence Skeptic

Publication: La Jolla Light

Author / Writer: Will Carless

 

Ginny Shue was decidedly skeptical when she first heard about a music therapy course offered by the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine. The law professor, who admits to having an “analytical brain,” thought the whole thing sounded far-fetched, a bit too flower-power, a bit too California, as she put it.

Not exactly a music lover, Shue had serious reservations about the idea from the start.

“I never understood music,” she said. “I’m the kid in grade school they would tell, ‘Don’t sing.’”

But after her first group session with therapist Barbara Reuer, Shue began to change her tune. In that class, she and other participants engaged in an exercise known as toning, a deep-breathing, meditative exercise designed to aid relaxation and encourage stress release.

“It was really interesting,” Shue said. “I could feel myself just relaxing.”

But what really convinced Shue was the actual measurable difference that the therapy had on her heart rate. Using a technique called entraining, Reuer asked the participants in the therapy to measure their pulse rates, then she began to slowly, rhythmically, beat a drum. The results caught Shue by surprised.

“You’re all there holding your pulse,” said Shue, “and mine was 70 and, son of a gun, if it didn’t go down to 60.”

According to Reuer, Shue’s experience is a common one. She is used to skeptics, but she’s convinced that her therapy can be life-changing. Reuer is one of some 5,000 therapists aligned with the American Music Therapy Association. She said her field of therapy has increased in popularity exponentially since the 1950s, when it first re-entered the mainstream of medical science as a treatment to aid returning World War II veterans.

Reuer said that music therapy has come full circle from the earliest days of medicine. She described how the ancient Greeks integrated music into their treatment of ailments, and said that the techniques she and others are practicing build on hundreds of years of tradition. Reuer also stressed that theses days, the effects of music therapy can also be backed up by science.

“As technology became more sophisticated – CAT scans and other things – we realized that music helped pain management and stress management,” said Reuer. “So out of that, we started working in medical settings.”

Research using brain scans also revealed that no particular part of the brain is affected by music therapy. Both the left and right hemispheres process music, and music has also been found to have a pronounced effect on the levels of many chemicals in the brain, including dopamine and seratonin.

La Jollans will get a chance to participate in a dose of music therapy of sorts in an upcoming concert hosted by the Center for Integrative Medicine at the Neurosciences Institute. The concert, which will feature child violin prodigy Eugene Ugorski and a presentation by Reuer, aims to be both a thank you to the center’s benefactors and a showcase for the music therapy element of the center’s work.

The idea behind the concert is to use Reuer’s presentation to prime the audience for the concert, which will also feature Ugorski’s parents Valeri and Luba. Reuer intends to use her presentation to suggest techniques that the audience can use as they listen to the classical music, so that they might better understand and appreciate what they are hearing.

“We want to give the people in the audience a context in which to then be able to listen to the music,” says Sherri Alazraki, director of development for the Scripps Health Foundation and an event organizer. “And they may have a very different experience than if they had just come in as if it was a concert.”

The concert is therefore intended as an encapsulation of what the center’s music therapy programs – in addition to the many other programs featured at the center – aim to promote: a more well-rounded appreciation by people of their bodies and their well-being.

Mimi Guarneri, the center’s medical director, explained the role of the concert and the music therapy course in simple terms.

“We’re just going to really teach people the science behind the music,” she said, “so that they can understand that aside from just the music making you feel good, that is can actually be having an effect on the physical body.”

The Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine presents “Healing Body, Mind and Spirit Through Music” on Saturday, Jan. 15, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive. Seats are $30 each and must be purchased in advance.

For more information about the concert, call Suzanne Swanson at (858) 678-6364. For more information on the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine, visit www.scrippshealth.org.
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