The History and Benefits of Music Therapy with Alli Dunn


Music is a relaxing hobby for many – whether it’s playing piano in your downtime, going to see your favorite artist live, or putting on the radio on your drive home – but for some, it goes beyond that. It’s a crucial resource for their physical and mental health.

Music therapy is a commonly used practice today for treating a wide variety of behavioral and mental disorders. Although music therapy is a relatively newer form of healthcare having only gained significant popularity in the last century, music as a therapeutic practice dates back thousands of years.

By 1879, the first scientific study on music therapy, titled “Music Physically Considered,” was published. By World War II, music therapy found a great significance when musicians were asked to play in hospitals for returning soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 1998, the American Music Therapy Association was founded.

Alli Dunn, director of music therapy programs for the Chicago Center for Music Education

Today, music therapy is very common. Alli Dunn is the director of music therapy programs at the Chicago Center for Music Education (ChiME). ChiME serves people of all ages, but Dunn mostly works with children from three to five years old.

According to Dunn, music therapy is a treatment that can follow along the entire life journey and treat a variety of behavioral and mental disorders. Music therapy can be neurological by treating pain relief, it can treat mental health among all ages, and it can be a form of elder care.

While music therapy can be used throughout all phases of life, it’s not usually the first choice for treatment. At ChiME, Dunn says they don’t diagnose. Rather, families will go to them already knowing they want their child to go to music therapy or they will work with schools who may benefit from a music therapy program.

You don’t have to be a musician to benefit from music therapy,” Dunn says. “You don’t have to have a sense of rhythm or be able to sing. What I look for most when I’m working with kids is if they have an inherent motivation when music is involved.”

Music not only improves your mental health, but it also affects your physical health. For instance, a powerful song can give you goosebumps or bring tears to your eyes, even if there aren’t any words.

“Music is one of the only things that stimulates the entire brain as a whole,” Dunn says. “Our body trains to what we’re listening to. Your breathing and your heart rate do tend to match the music you’re listening to or the music you’re making.”

In a therapy setting, louder instruments are used to get your energy up and softer music will calm your body down. ChiME takes on an educational setting in their practice, and music therapy is used to help with a child’s academic, collaboration and attention skills.

Furthermore, there are a wide variety of benefits from music therapy…

If you want to read more about ChiME, head over to issuu to read the full interview.

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Justice Petersen
Justice Petersen
Justice Petersen is a Chicago-based music journalist and freelance writer. She is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago, having earned a journalism major with a concentration in magazine writing and a minor in music business. Justice regularly contributes artist interviews, On Your Radar features and various other articles for Melodic Magazine, serving as an interviewer, writer and editor. She also writes for several other online magazine publications, including Ghost Cult Magazine, Chicago Music Guide and That Eric Alper, and her work has been featured in Sunstroke Magazine, Fever Dream Zine, ChicagoTalks and the Chicago Reader. Her favorite band is Metallica and her go-to coffee order is an iced vanilla oat milk latte with strawberry cold foam on top.

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