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February 29, 2020

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Feeling edgy? One therapy may be music to your ears

Music is said to “soothe the savage beast.” It can be a way of calming heartache, pain and emotions. No, it can’t conquer the coronavirus beast, but it can help soothe the nerves of people riding out the agonies of the epidemic.

That’s where students and teachers from the music therapy program of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music come into play. They have decided to make use of their music training to help ease people’s anxiety over the viral outbreak and the rigors of being cooped up at home.

“Find yourself a comfortable position and close your eyes.”

Feng Zhuoyan, a sophomore in music therapy education, is using visual software on a laptop to talk to a housewife who is anxious because her husband works at a medical institution in Shanghai.

“In addition to anxiety about her husband’s occupation in these trying times, her limited social life makes her restless,” Feng explained to Shanghai Daily. “What I have been doing is helping her try to shift her focus and find peace in mind.”

Feng and seven other students are members of an online music therapy project initiated by the conservatory earlier this month. Under the instruction of professors, the student “therapists” are volunteering their services to those in need of help.

“We prefer calling them ‘visitors’ instead of ‘patients,’” Feng said, “because they are just ordinary people in need of temporary psychological help. I’m extremely happy when I receive positive feedback from my visitors. It is satisfying to help people.”

According to Professor Yang Yanyi, one of the instructors in the project, music therapy is still a relatively new concept in China.

“Social practice and application play an important part in our education,” said Yang. “Music therapy students have been frequently involved in community service and hospital volunteer activities. What is special about this project is that the whole procedure is conducted online instead of the traditional face-to-face method.”

Music therapy is an interdisciplinary major that integrates musicology, psychology, sociology, and education theory and practice. It employs specific music activities to achieve the purpose of maintaining, restoring, improving and promoting physical and mental well-being. The major, better developed in the United States and some European countries, is just emerging in China.

Yang said the project was initially designed to help medical professionals ease the stress of their work during the epidemic.

“Apart from doctors and nurses tending novel coronavirus patients at the front line, other medical professionals, including those working in Shanghai’s hospitals, are under great pressure too,” said Yang. “They are exposed to more potential dangers than before. The increase in patient anxiety also affects medical staff.”

Yang said the project is accessible to the general public regardless of occupation or location. People can make appointments through the project’s official WeChat account (shcm1927). The eight music therapists each work three-hour shifts from home.

Tong Xinxin, a senior majoring in music therapy, has served more than 20 people in the past two weeks. Most of them were women aged between 30 and 50, including medical staff from the Yueyang Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine, Shanghai Ruijin Hospital and Shuguang Hospital.

Tong said some of them were stressed by heavy workloads and some were suffering anxiety after reading continuous negative news during the epidemic.

Each therapy session lasts for about half an hour. Tong said she most often uses what she calls a three-step “relaxation treatment.”

“The first step is to play some soft music and instruct the visitor to relax physically,” Tong said. “In the second step, I play some music with natural sounds, like birds singing and a river flowing, while asking the visitor to picture what they hear. The purpose of this step is to encourage the visitor to fully engage his or her imagination and shift focus from anxiety.”

She continued: “The third step is to ask the visitor to move his or her body a bit and observe their surroundings when returning to the real world from the imagined one. That way, we hope they will return to real life in a more relaxed mood.”

The music used by the therapists is chosen from a musical library the team gathered during preparation for the project. It’s not necessarily famous or classical pieces, but rather music that serve specific functions.

The library has been expanding as therapists gain more understanding of those they are treating. The professors organize online conferences every day to allow the student therapists to exchange ideas and discuss problems they have encountered.

The therapists do follow-up calls to people they have treated to ask how they are doing and determine if further treatment might be beneficial.

Tong said one of the major difficulties the therapists have encountered is the gear needed for online sessions.

“We teach them how to use certain software and try to maintain a smooth treatment procedure,” said Tong. “It’s not as convenient and efficient as face-to-face communication, but we are doing our best under these special circumstances.”

Both Tong and Feng confessed they themselves experienced some anxiety before the start of the project because online treatment was a new experience for them, too. A one-week training session ahead of the project and continuous communication among therapists and their instructors helped them overcome their initial worries.

“For myself, I was not confident enough about the online format,” said Feng. “But the outcome can be described as satisfying. I’m happy to use this project as a means of popularizing music therapy among the public.”

The Shanghai Conservatory of Music introduced music therapy as a major about 10 years ago. The program recruits no more than six students each year. Some students start their own clinics after graduation, and some go to work for medical or mental institutions, special education schools and prison programs.

“Music therapy has broad application,” said Yang. “For example, we have designed background music for some hospitals in Shanghai to create a relaxing, harmonious atmosphere. Music therapy can also be used in clinical treatment.”

therapy music

For relaxation:

Bach: “Goldberg Variations”

Grieg: “Lyric Pieces”

Brahms: “Two Rhapsodies,” “Intermezzo in E Minor”

Erik Berglund: “Lake of Enchantment” from “Harp of the Healing Waters”

Stanton Lanier: “Awaken the Dawn” and “December Peace”

Dave Grusin: “On Golden Pond”

For revitalization:

Johann Strauss Jr: “Morgenblätter”

Haydn: “Piano Sonata in E Minor”

Mozart: “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”

Vivaldi: “Concerto for Violin and Strings in A Minor”


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