Music for the Wounded Soldier

How music therapy for our wounded military can make a difference

Posted Nov 19, 2012

A couple days ago, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Department of Defense announced the launch of a new music therapy program at Walter Reed Medical Center. Music therapy will be joining art therapy and creative writing as a treatment option for wounded military personnel and their families. This program, supported in part through NEA's Operation Homecoming initiaitve, will focus not only on providing music therapy services to these patients, but—through a partnership with the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE)—will also research the efficacy of the treatment. 

I had the distinct pleasure of participating in a media teleconference to announce the launch of this program. It was exciting to see so many organizations and people support and recognize the value of music therapy as a treatment option—the NEA, the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), NICoE. Even the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) is a part of this effort, providing information and support as needed.

But why add music therapy? There are already so many therapy and support services offered through Walter Reed's interdisciplinary approach—what can music therapy that's unique? Consider these three points:

  1. Music therapy can bridge the gap between rehabilitation and psychological health. Rehabilitation-wise, music therapy can address cognitive, motor, and communication needs. Psychologically, it can address emotional, social, and spiritual needs. Because music engages our brain across diffuse networks and at multiple levels—from the deep structures implicated in our emotional and psychological experiences all to way to those neocortical structures implicated in higher-order thinking—it can be a powerful addition to an interdisciplinary treatment team.
  2. There is strong foundational research support for using music therapy to help those with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), identified as a "signature wound" for veterans returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Depending on the individual's identified treatment needs, music therapy can be used to: reduce muscle tension, improve one's self-image, increase access to speech production and expression, enhance interpersonal relationships, improve motor functioning and gait, increase motivation, improve the perception and differentiation of feelings, improve group cohesiveness, enhance self-expression and self-awareness, recognize and cope with traumatic triggers, and decrease anxiety and agitation.
  3. Music therapy can be used with individuals, groups, and families. It is a type of treatment that is accessible to all. It can be used intergenerationally, bringing together 20- and 30-year old soliders, their spouses, their children, and their parents. It can be used for group therapy, those that address rehabilitation-related goals—such as a music and exercise group—or those that can target psychological health goals. And it can be facilitated individually, working at the bedside or helping to provide procedural support, if needed.

During the media teleconference, DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius talked about the emotional pull she felt as Governor watching citizens of her state deploying for service, then welcoming them back home again. It's this type of emotional pull that prompts many Americans to want to do what we can to help those who have served our country—soldiers and their families—fullfill as rich and healthy a life as possible. It's this emotional pull that makes it so exciting for me to see music therapy, as well as other creative art modalities, incorporated into military healthcare.


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Baker, F., Wigram, T., & Gold, C. (2005). The effects of a song-singing programme on the
affective speaking intonation of people with traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 19(7), 519-528.

Bradt, J., Magee, W. L., Dileo, C., Wheeler, B. L., & McGilloway E. (2010). Music therapy for acquired brain injury. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD006787. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006787.pub2.

Guetin, S., Soua, B., Voiriot, G., Picot, M. C., Herisson, C. (2009). The effect of music therapy on mood and anxiety-depression: an observational study in institutionalised patients with traumatic brain injury. Ann Phys Rehabil Medicine, 52(1), 30-40.

Nayak, S., Wheeler, B. L., Shiflett, S. C., & Agostinelli, S. (2000). Effect of music therapy on mood and social interaction among individuals with acute traumatic brain injury and stroke. Rehabilitation Psychology, 45(3), 274-283.

Thaut, M. H., Gardiner, J. C., Holmberg, D., et al. (2009). Neurologic music therapy improves executive function and emotional adjustment in traumatic brain injury rehabilitation. Ann N Y Acad Sci., 1169, 406-16.

Wheeler, B. L., Shiflett, S. C., & Nayak, S. (2003). Effects of number of sessions and group or individual music therapy on the mood and behavior of people who have had strokes or traumatic brain injuries. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy. 12(2), 139-51.

Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website,, for additional information, resources, and strategies.

About the Author

Kimberly Sena Moore, Ph.D., MT-BC, is a board-certified music therapist, blogger, and professor at the University of Miami.

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