Improving health and well-being through the power of music

It took just 45 minutes for UK HealthCare music therapist Jennifer Peyton to make a powerful, positive impact on a patient’s health.

The patient had come to Eastern State Hospital after trying to hang himself. After learning that the patient enjoyed classic rock music, Peyton played the Eagles’ Take it to the Limit, and then asked about this line: “If all the pieces fell tomorrow, would you still be mine?”

“’You may have untied my rope,’” Peyton remembers the patient saying.

“This gentleman said, ‘I know that I need to be there for my wife because she was there for me,’” Peyton recalls. “He pulled me aside after and said, ‘You may have untied my rope.’ I really had to choke back the tears. That was because of music, because of the rapport that I built in just 45 minutes with the individuals in that group, and the discussion we had leading up to this meatier question about support systems.”

Music therapy – part of UK HealthCare’s Creative Arts Therapies program – is an established healthcare practice that uses music to help improve patients’ well-being. Medical music therapy can enhance quality of life, increase self-awareness, and prevent or manage a range of physical and emotional symptoms through the use of live music and interactions with a music therapist.

There are currently five music therapists on staff at UK HealthCare

“We are dedicated to using the arts through evidenced-based practices to improve physical, mental and emotional health,” said Cheryl Benze, the creative arts clinical coordinator for UK HealthCare.

Benefits for patients of all ages

Lyric analysis is just one of many methods used in music therapy to improve patients’ health and well-being alongside standard medical care. Both vocal and instrumental activities enhance communication and manage anxiety, pain, nausea and other symptoms.

Adults and teens can benefit from lyric analysis, songwriting, and the progressive adjustment of music intensity to match and alter mood. However, music therapy is beneficial for even the youngest of patients who have barely started their life journey.

Katie Goforth is a music therapist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital who often uses multimodal neurological enhancement (MNE) in the neonatal ICU. Many of her patients are premature infants with neonatal abstinence syndrome or chronic respiratory illness.

With MNE, auditory, tactile and vestibular (gentle rocking) stimulation are introduced in progression to encourage relaxation and increase tolerance to stimulation. Infants’ ability to tolerate each layer of stimulation is directly correlated to their neurological development and maturation.

“It helps babies organize their bodies and understand what’s happening to them in the real world,” Goforth said. “For example, when they’re getting a bath, they’ll understand that sensation is enjoyable.”

For older children like toddlers, who may be particularly fearful in a hospital setting, singing and playing instruments can be relaxing and offer some normalcy. Movement can be incorporated to make occupational and physical therapy goals more enjoyable.

Music therapy misconceptions

Since music therapy is not as widespread as other types of healthcare, many people misconstrue its purpose or may not even know about it.

“From a layperson’s point of view, we’re often seen as entertainment, rather than an evidence-based therapeutic service,” Goforth said of music therapists.

“Even when it looks like it’s just for fun, there are many clinical decisions made to achieve an elevated mood and positive experience,” added Jessy Rushing, lead music therapy clinician and internship supervisor.

In addition to standard music classes, music therapy education requires courses in behavior sciences, psychology, anatomy and physiology, and music therapy specifically. Clinical studies in school are followed by a six-month clinical internship and board exams. All of this culminates in a master’s degree and music therapy board certification, or MT-BC.

Because music is so subjective and personal, one song can mean something different for each patient. As soon as a patient’s mood shifts, music therapists can tweak the activity to meet the patient’s changing needs. In this way, music therapists are able to make noticeable differences in patients’ well-being on a daily basis, improving their healthcare experience.


Next steps:

  • UK Arts in HealthCare enhances the healing atmosphere of UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital through artwork and installations by local and international artists.Learn more.
  • Find out more about UK Integrative Medicine & Health, a program that focuses on the treating the whole patient using all appropriate therapies, healthcare expertise and disciplines to achieve optimal health and healing.