music therapy

The history of music therapy and its problem

Music therapy is one of the most applied psychotherapies, which combines the theory and practice of music, medicine and psychology, and has a broad application prospect in health care and treatment of physical and mental diseases. Music therapy was established as an independent discipline and formal field of study in the United States in the mid-20th century; however, the origins of music therapy can be traced back to ancient times and the early days of human activity.

History and Status of Music Therapy

1. The history and current status of music therapy abroad

As early as primitive society, Westerners believed that music could influence mental and physical health. Some tribal shamans or mages used drumming or singing sacred songs to perform magic and religious activities, with the purpose of exorcising evil spirits or demons from patients to cure diseases, or as a prelude to actual healing rituals. It is generally believed that the pioneers of music therapy were the ancient Greeks, although the ancient Egyptians mentioned the effects of music on the human body as early as 1500 B.C. The ancient Greeks further developed the idea of using music to relieve pain and suffering. The theories of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle can be considered the origins of the principles of music therapy. Pythagoras first proposed the concept of “music medicine”, which believed that music could increase or relieve human passions by affecting the harmony of the soul; Plato pointed out that music could influence human behavior and consciousness; Aristotle believed that music had the value of relieving emotions. The ancient Greeks’ understanding of the medical effects of music had risen from the concept of witchcraft to the perspective of philosophy and ethics, paying attention to the application of clinical diagnosis and logical thinking to the practice of music therapy, and began to pay attention to the effects of music on the psyche, especially on emotions.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the development of music therapy was hindered, but music continued to be used in religious and witchcraft rituals. Most politicians and philosophers of the time believed in the power of music to help heal. During the Renaissance, medicine developed greatly and music began to be integrated into everyday medical practice, and many doctors and scientists began to observe the effects of music on humans and animals.

Modern music therapy in the West began in the 18th century. The first scientific practitioner of music therapy is considered by the psychological community to be Aluthiura in the late 18th century, who first used music on patients to match emotional and mental rhythms and found that music had a facilitating effect on the reactions of psychiatric patients. During this period, a number of publications on music therapy were published in Europe, and it is clear that they were already treating music therapy as a science. The earliest reference in the history of music therapy in the United States was “Physiological Reflections on Music” published in the Columbia Journal in 1789, which expressed the basic principles of music therapy and personal ideas and recommendations that were important to music therapy.

One of the more important developments in music therapy was during the Second World War, when many countries focused on developing rehabilitation measures for veterans, especially in the United States. Performers and music teachers became members of hospital treatment teams. In order to compensate for the lack of training in the assessment of music therapy processes and the related medical and psychological background of musicians, special courses were offered and specialized organizations were established. In 1946, the University of Kansas offered a full course in music therapy; in 1950, the National Music Therapy Committee became the National Association for Music (NAMT); and in 1971, the American Music Association (AAMT) was established. In January 1998, NAMT and AAMT were unified as the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

2. History and Status of Music Therapy in China

The history of music therapy in China can be traced back as far as thousands of years ago in primitive societies, when witch doctors treated diseases. From the fact that the words music, medicine, and therapy have the same origin, it is clear that our ancient ancestors recognized the relationship between song and music and medicine. The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine first introduced the five tones into the field of medicine by applying the theory of the five elements of yin and yang, pointing out that the different tones of music have different effects on the physiological or pathological activities of the five organs of the human body and on the changes of human emotions. In 《Zuo Zhuan》, a famous Qin doctor discusses the relationship between music and disease, pointing out that listening to music and playing music must be selective and moderate in order to benefit the body and mind.

Music therapy, as a complete modern discipline, started relatively late in China, especially in mainland China. In 1979, Professor Liu Bangrui, an American music therapist, was invited to lecture at the Central Conservatory of Music, introducing music therapy in Europe and the United States to China for the first time. 1981, the Shenyang Military Hospital introduced music electrotherapy, which was then combined with traditional acupuncture, giving Chinese music therapy a Chinese character different from that of the West from the very beginning. In 1984, the Mawangdui Sanatorium in Changsha, Hunan Province, started psycho-musical therapy, and jointly developed a psycho-musical therapy machine with the Changsha Medical Equipment Factory. 1985-1986, the Beijing An Ding Hospital and the Huilongguan Hospital cooperated with music professionals to carry out active treatment for elderly depression and operational music therapy for chronic schizophrenia. 1988, the Chinese Conservatory of Music established a music therapy program, and in 1989, the program was officially enrolled. In 1989, the China Music Therapy Society was established, which greatly contributed to the development of music therapy in China. 1991, four schools for the mentally handicapped in Guangzhou and Shanghai conducted a two-year experiment in music therapy, which achieved significant results. 1992, the Beijing Equipment Development Center of the China Music Therapy Society was established. 1996, the Central Conservatory of Music established a music therapy research center. In 1996, the Central Conservatory of Music established the Music Therapy Research Center and began enrolling master’s degree students in 1999 and undergraduate students in 2003. In recent years, the field of music therapy for children is emerging and developing rapidly.

Existing Problems and Prospects of Music Therapy

As an ancient and new discipline, music therapy has problems that need to be solved in the fields of clinical application and theoretical research. On the whole, they are mainly in the following aspects. (1) the research on basic theory is relatively weak; (2) the emphasis is on therapeutic rather than preventive appointments; (3) the cultural background of the population is neglected; (4) the efficacy of music therapy is difficult to evaluate; (5) there is a lack of research on the deeper mechanisms of music therapy.


In conclusion, music therapy has been developed rapidly in a relatively short period of time due to its outstanding applicability, and its main achievement lies in the creation of therapeutic methods and their efficacy. Music therapy has gradually transformed from a purely biomedical model to a bio-psycho-social model, introducing music, psychological, social, cultural and aesthetic theories into the treatment. In the future of medical, health care and social life, music therapy will be further developed with its practicality and adaptability to the needs of society.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *