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segunda-feira, 6 de dezembro de 2010

Altered states of consciousness and musictherapy

How does music effect patients in persistent vegetative state, or people whose self-perception is impaired by pathological processes?
How can a song from an early period in life trigger spiritual questions in a person at the end of his or her life, and give consolation and hope?

(Aldridge, Fachner and Schmid, 2006)

From the stance of musicology, music cognition, performance and psychology there is a growing interest in how music is perceived and processed in altered states of consciousness and possible heuristic benefits as a comparison to the so-called ‘normal’ processes of perception, experience and performance. Currently, we have opportunities of using music-induced states of altered consciousness to promote physical and mental healing, treat substance dependence, and in spiritual and palliative care, and that will be exposed here.

Blood & Zatorre (2001) designed and developed a study to investigate neural correlates of intensely pleasurable responses to music, where it was used positron emission tomography (PET) to study neural mechanisms underlying these emotional responses. The pattern of activity observed in correlation with music-induced chills is similar to that observed in other brain imaging studies of euphoria and/or pleasant emotion, like sex, food or drug use.

Test persons listening to favorite music changes not only in the activity of the autonomous nerve system, as demonstrated by changes in cardiac beat, muscletone, skin resistance and depth of breath, but also in blood flow in brain structures that are involved in processing emotional stimuli. This activation pattern - blood flow - of specific regions in the brain has a primarily euphorising effect, what indicates that the perception of favorite music directly interacts with brain structures associated with emotions, like ventral striatum, midbrain, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

This is quite remarkable, because music is neither strictly necessary for biological survival or reproduction, nor is it a pharmacological substance. Activation of these brain systems in response to a stimulus as abstract as music may represent an emergent property of the complexity of human cognition. Perhaps as formation of anatomical and functional links between phylogenically older, survival-related brain systems and newer, more cognitive systems increased our general capacity to assign meaning to abstract stimuli, our capacity to derive pleasure from these stimuli also increased.

The ability of music to induce such intense pleasure and its putative stimulation of endogenous reward systems suggest that, although music may not be imperative for survival of the human species, it may indeed be of significant benefit to our mental and physical well-being.

This emotion quake may also be a shortcut to induced altered states of consciousness, explaining why music therapy is helpful in cancer or demential patients, persons at the end of their life or in irreversible processes as degenerative diseases.
Ludwig (1966) in "Archives of General Psychiatry" described altered states of consciousness as changes in thinking, time perception, loss of control, changes in emotionaly, body shceme, perception, experience of meaning: a feeling of the unexpressable, of renewal and rebirth and hyper-suggestibility.
This patients are kept away from falling into a deep depression with the emotional wave that musictherapy is able to fulfill. Music provides altered states of consciousness, giving something to look forward to, and brought meaning to this patients days in the hospital, despite reliefing some negative symptoms induced prompt by the diseases, which included nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and itchiness. State specific memories and processes may be triggered by hearing or singing clidwood songs that help to create a present time structured by music through intensive memories of the past, of youth and health.

Concluding, we realize that musictherapy can provide a revival process. T
he term states stresses the temporary character of what is
experienced in illness and in therapy.
as a special form of sharing and creating time processes allows musictherapists to meet
their cl
ients, to help them to alter their altered states of illness and self perception, and to show them a different perspective of their own being.

For those challenged by devastating diseases, music is

  • Aldridge, D., Fachner, J., & Schmid, W. (2006, 31. März). Music, perception and altered states of consciousness [Electronic Version].
    Music Therapy Today, 7, (1) 70-76. Retrieved 1. April from http://
  • Blood, A.J., & Zatorre, R.J. (2001). Intensely pleasurable responses to music correlate with activity in brain regions implicated in reward and emotion. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 98(20), 11818-11823.
  • Fachner, J. (2007) Researching music and altered states in therapy and culture. Music Therapy Today Vol. VIII, (3) December. available at
  • Ludwig, A. M. (1966). Altered states of consciousness. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 15(3), 225 -234.
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