More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
The Rolling Stones: A Form of Music Therapy
Mental Health Blog
Sept. 1, 2008

In recent news, a 60 year old grandfather of Stoke, England, awoke from a 10 week coma when he heard the sound of "I Can?t Get No (Satisfaction)" by the Rolling Stones pumping through his headphones.

Sam Carter slipped into a coma after developing severe anaemia. Doctors were not very hopeful about his recovery. In fact, his survival rate was a mere 30%. His wife was reluctant to use a 'music therapy' approach, but all else was failing.

After many weeks of silence, Sam said:

I can't remember much from being in a coma, but I do remember that when that song came on it took me right back to when I was a youngster. I could remember how excited I was to get it down at the record shop. I suddenly had a burst of energy and knew I had a lot more life left in me and that's when I woke up - to the sound of the first song I ever bought.
When I heard about this miracle, it reminded me of how music therapy is sometimes used in cases of acquired brain injury, autism, emotional traumas, geriatric care, hearing impairments, speech and language impairments, substance abuse, and many other areas of mental health. This form of therapy does not seem to get the attention and credit it might deserve. Music therapy uses music and musical elements to treat physical, emotional, cognitive and social problems. The music can facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development.

Many questions come to mind regarding the efficiency of music therapy. How does it work and does it work in the same way for everyone? What type of music works best? What sort of brain injuries respond better to this form of therapy? When is it the best treatment option? Who should perform this type of therapy and is there a certified body governing its use? Are success rates linked to age, severity of damage etc?

Unfortunately, the answers to most of these questions are rarely black or white. In terms of an exact methodology; none seems to exist. There is no step by step approach. Instead, many differing methods are used to develop communication, language and intellectual development, assist in the grieving process, relieve stress, motivate rehabilitation, aid memory and imagination etc. Music therapy works by keeping the patient's attention, structuring time, providing an enjoyable method of repetition, helping memory, encouraging movement, and tapping into memories and emotions. Many studies attest to these findings, such as, a Finland study suggesting that listening to music shortly after a stroke can facilitate cognitive and emotional recovery.

But, how exactly does music affect the brain? Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center demonstrated that

one brain system, based in the temporal lobes, helps humans memorize information in both language and music? for example, words and meanings in language and familiar melodies in music. The other system, based in the frontal lobes, helps us unconsciously learn and use the rules that underlie both language and music, such as the rules of syntax in sentences, and the rules of harmony in music.​
Still, it is not easy to identify when this alternative treatment is most appropriate. It appears to be used most often when all else has failed, as was the case with Sam Carter, however since it doesn?t cause any harm it might be best not to leave this option as a last resort.

I have also discovered that the Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT) is a national body that lists accredited University educated music therapists for anyone seeking this form of therapy.

Some interesting facts:

  • The information most adults consistently recall from childhood is songs and rhymes.
  • Emotional engagement is the key to effective learning. Music therapy engages the emotions; thus unlocking the brain and preparing it for learning.
  • People have at least seven distinct intelligences. One of these intelligence areas is the musical area. Often people with special needs learn best through music because that part of the brain is an older part of the brain and less likely to be damaged from birth defects, accidents, etc.
  • Research studies have shown that 80 - 90% of individuals with autism respond positively to music as a motivator.
  • Research has shown that music is a valued tool for stimulating the right side of the brain; and also is helpful in encouraging bilateral activity between the brain hemispheres.
  • The area of the brain that responds to music is located in a different area than the speech and language area.
There is something about music that tugs at our innate youthful ambition and rejuvenates our willingness to heal, making it a possibility, and then a reality. Even when we're upset, a good depressing song works as a sympathizer and release. It's a self indulgent catharsis, but therapeutic. It is even used to help plants grow. In fact, the entirety of our existence may very well be nothing more than a reverberating note on the strings of a universe. Sounds far fetched I know, but everything about the structure of the world, including its complexities is visually musical, and all is relative. The same is said about laughter when it comes to healing.
this is quite amazing - but at the same time, it doesn't surprise me :)
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