Study: Music Therapy Helps Brain Sync with Therapist
An innovative study reveals that the brains of a patient and therapist become synchronized during a music therapy session. The first-time finding is viewed as a breakthrough that could improve future interactions between patients and therapists.
The study was the first to use a procedure called hyperscanning, which records activity in two brains at the same time, allowing researchers to better understand how people interact.
During the session documented in the study, classical music was played as the patient discussed a serious illness in her family. Both patient and therapist wore EEG (electroencephalogram) caps containing sensors, which capture electrical signals in the brain, and the session was recorded in sync with the EEG using video cameras.
The research was performed by Anglia Ruskin University faculty Professor Jorg Fachner and Dr. Clemens Maidhof. The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
The authors explain that music therapists work towards “moments of change,” where they make a meaningful connection with their patient. This was evidence as at one point during this study, the patient’s brain activity shifted suddenly from displaying deep negative feelings to a positive peak.
Moments later, as the therapist realized the session was working, her scan displayed similar results. In subsequent interviews, both identified that as a moment when they felt the therapy was really working.
The researchers examined activity in the brain’s right and left frontal lobes where negative and positive emotions are processed, respectively.
By analyzing hyperscanning data alongside video footage and a transcript of the session, the researchers were able to demonstrate that brain synchronization occurs, and also show what a patient-therapist “moment of change” looks like inside the brain.
Fachner, the lead author and a Professor of Music, Health and the Brain at ARU comments:
“This study is a milestone in music therapy research. Music therapists report experiencing emotional changes and connections during therapy, and we’ve been able to confirm this using data from the brain.
“Music, used therapeutically, can improve well-being, and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, autism and dementia. Music therapists have had to rely on the patient’s response to judge whether this is working, but by using hyperscanning we can see exactly what is happening in the patient’s brain.
“Hyperscanning can show the tiny, otherwise imperceptible, changes that take place during therapy. By highlighting the precise points where sessions have worked best, it could be particularly useful when treating patients for whom verbal communication is challenging.
“Our findings could also help to better understand emotional processing in other therapeutic interactions.”
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Study: Music Therapy Helps Brain Sync with Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2019/07/29/study-music-therapy-helps-brain-sync-with-therapist/148943.html