Music heals, and there’s no greater celebration of time expressed through sound than poetry. For centuries, human cultures have used sound to heal. As a remedy, it can’t be seen but as one which possesses a power as inexplicable as it is evident. Contemporary medicine has begun, recently, to take account of sound’s healing potential and, more specifically, of poetry’s healing potential. In an inspiring text (published by Nautilus), Danny W. Linggonegoro, a Harvard medical student, makes a formidable and deeply sensitive defense of the practice, based on patients who’ve been exposed to the melody of lyrical language.

According to Linggonegoro, poetry —one of humanity’s highest expressions— touches the world of medicine at a point where quantifiable certainties are blurred, a fact which those who dedicate themselves to medicine are beginning to understand and accept. As doctors have discovered that their own relationships with patients don’t have to be automated, investigating conditions, and proposing and implementing methods, they’ve used other tools. Among these is poetry.

Researchers of the effects of poetry on sick patients have used magnetic resonance to show that reciting poetry actively incites a specific reward circuit in the brain. Known as the mesolimbic pathway, it’s one of those through which dopamine (a neurotransmitter related to pleasure) will travel. It works with exposure to music, too, but it’s been proven that poetry provides a unique answer. While the exact mechanism remains unclear, the studies suggest that music, poetry, and other non-pharmacological stimuli can help reduce pain and reduce patient reliance on painkillers.

A clinical trial at the University of Maranão, Brazil, studied the effects of listening to music and poetry passively in 65 patients suffering from pain and depression from cancer and cancer treatments. The studies found that the two therapies generated improvements in the intensity of pain and the levels of depression in the subjects studied. But they also resulted in data indicating that only poetry, and not music, was able to increase levels of hope in patients. Researchers concluded that poetry can modify the way patients perceive and express themselves about their own illness, and this has a clear and positive effect on their treatment.

Another study noted by Linggonegoro was conducted with 28 Iranian women in chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. The study showed that exposing them to poetry read aloud, improved their quality of life. (Quality of life was measured through a questionnaire prepared by the European Organization for Cancer Research and Treatment.)

The studies, increasingly frequent, have encouraged clinics, doctors, and organizations around the world to use poetry and art in general, as methods for healing. This has encouraged reading and poetry workshops in hospitals and health centers. And in the cases of the sickest patients, once clinical treatments are finished, there are often many other things to be cured beyond the physical symptoms.

For many (seemingly always more), medicine is an art in the broadest sense of the word. Poetry, too, is an expression which, through its rhythms and musicality, can be experienced throughout the body. A condensation of the power of language and music, the lyric gives meaning to the world and it’s one of the most efficient vehicles for expressing the human interior. Perhaps therein lies its profound healing power.

 

 

 

Image: Public domain

Music heals, and there’s no greater celebration of time expressed through sound than poetry. For centuries, human cultures have used sound to heal. As a remedy, it can’t be seen but as one which possesses a power as inexplicable as it is evident. Contemporary medicine has begun, recently, to take account of sound’s healing potential and, more specifically, of poetry’s healing potential. In an inspiring text (published by Nautilus), Danny W. Linggonegoro, a Harvard medical student, makes a formidable and deeply sensitive defense of the practice, based on patients who’ve been exposed to the melody of lyrical language.

According to Linggonegoro, poetry —one of humanity’s highest expressions— touches the world of medicine at a point where quantifiable certainties are blurred, a fact which those who dedicate themselves to medicine are beginning to understand and accept. As doctors have discovered that their own relationships with patients don’t have to be automated, investigating conditions, and proposing and implementing methods, they’ve used other tools. Among these is poetry.

Researchers of the effects of poetry on sick patients have used magnetic resonance to show that reciting poetry actively incites a specific reward circuit in the brain. Known as the mesolimbic pathway, it’s one of those through which dopamine (a neurotransmitter related to pleasure) will travel. It works with exposure to music, too, but it’s been proven that poetry provides a unique answer. While the exact mechanism remains unclear, the studies suggest that music, poetry, and other non-pharmacological stimuli can help reduce pain and reduce patient reliance on painkillers.

A clinical trial at the University of Maranão, Brazil, studied the effects of listening to music and poetry passively in 65 patients suffering from pain and depression from cancer and cancer treatments. The studies found that the two therapies generated improvements in the intensity of pain and the levels of depression in the subjects studied. But they also resulted in data indicating that only poetry, and not music, was able to increase levels of hope in patients. Researchers concluded that poetry can modify the way patients perceive and express themselves about their own illness, and this has a clear and positive effect on their treatment.

Another study noted by Linggonegoro was conducted with 28 Iranian women in chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. The study showed that exposing them to poetry read aloud, improved their quality of life. (Quality of life was measured through a questionnaire prepared by the European Organization for Cancer Research and Treatment.)

The studies, increasingly frequent, have encouraged clinics, doctors, and organizations around the world to use poetry and art in general, as methods for healing. This has encouraged reading and poetry workshops in hospitals and health centers. And in the cases of the sickest patients, once clinical treatments are finished, there are often many other things to be cured beyond the physical symptoms.

For many (seemingly always more), medicine is an art in the broadest sense of the word. Poetry, too, is an expression which, through its rhythms and musicality, can be experienced throughout the body. A condensation of the power of language and music, the lyric gives meaning to the world and it’s one of the most efficient vehicles for expressing the human interior. Perhaps therein lies its profound healing power.

 

 

 

Image: Public domain