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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

The Healing Power of Music

Music therapy has been used to help people who are battling emotional, physical or intellectual challenges.

Music can be more than just a sound pleasing to the ear. For some people who are battling emotional, physical or intellectual challenges, music can heal. For one family, it offered a second chance for their daughter.

Ailey Ybarra was born with a congenital heart problem and has since undergone numerous treatments and surgeries. Doctors at Los Angeles Children's Hospital told her mother, Ashling Gardner, that her daughter would never improve.

“I thought I would never hear my daughter’s voice again,” said Gardner.

Things worsened when Ailey suffered cardiac arrest and fell into a coma. But during this time her mother turned to classical music.

“We had played classical music for her, and we had found that she started to have a response,” said Gardner.

That response led her to seek out a different kind of therapy for her daughter. She enlisted the help of music therapist Andy Tubman.

Using a variety of instruments including a guitar and a tambourine, Tubman engaged with Ailey in their weekly one hour sessions.

“So it’s about engagement, and I think that unconsciously if you match her musically she engages much quicker and more deeply,” said Tubman.

It took only two sessions for Gardner to hear her daughter’s voice again.

The Music Therapy Association has over five thousand certified music therapists in the country.

California State University Northridge is the only state school that offers a music therapy degree.

“Music therapy is using music to help people achieve a goal. The goal is not usually a musical goal,” said Ronald Borczon, director of music therapy at CSU Northridge.

According to the Music Therapy Association, over one million people in the country have received music therapy services in the last year.

Yet despite the numbers, those in the medical field are still learning about its impact.

“We are continuing to learn what music in the general sense does to the brain. It seems to have phenomenal impact,” said Dr. Orli Peter, Center for Accelerated Psychology.

But for Ailey’s mom that impact is priceless.

“My child is a miracle and my daughter has something special and has potential, ” said Gardner.

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