What is Your Brain Doing During Music Therapy?

hand draws brain sign

A review of a recent case study on how the brain reacts to music therapy. 

“For the first time researchers have been able to demonstrate that the brains of a patient and therapist become synchronized during a music therapy session, a breakthrough that could improve future interactions between patients and therapists.” 

On July 25, 2019, a new study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. It was the first research that utilized a procedure called hyperscanning in music therapy research, which allowed researchers to better understand the interaction between two people by recording brain activities in both brains at the same time. 

Both EEG (electroencephalogram) and video recording were used to capture data of the session from both the therapist and the client in a guided imagery and music session. GIM music therapist guided the client through an “imaginary journey” while incorporating music listening and images to elicit memories, emotions, and feelings from the client, and to help the client understand life issues. 

In this dyadic case study, the goal was to engage the client in a supportive music experience while discussing strong emotions. A series of classical music was played during the session while the client shared and discussed issues and concerns in her life. The researchers specifically looked for the “moment of interest” which was defined as a therapeutically important moment. Brain synchronization was observed through brain scan and video recordings during moments of interest. During one of the moments of interest, the brain scan showed that the client experienced a shift of emotion from negative to positive, which shortly followed by a similar shift in the therapist. The researchers concluded that the client and the therapist truly connected during the session, and such a therapeutic setting provided a safe environment to work on negative emotions, fear, anxiety, etc. 

This study marks a milestone in music therapy research by demonstrating the brain synchronization between a patient and a music therapist during a music therapy session. It allowed us to see what "moment of change" looks like inside the brain. The findings could set the foundation on understanding emotional processing in therapeutic interactions, and determining the effectiveness of music therapy in psychodynamic settings. 

Original Source

Jörg C. Fachner, Clemens Maidhof, Denise Grocke, Inge Nygaard Pedersen, Gro Trondalen, Gerhard Tucek, Lars O. Bonde. “Telling me not to worry…” Hyperscanning and Neural Dynamics of Emotion Processing During Guided Imagery and MusicFrontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01561

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