Five Element Chinese Music Therapy project

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The Efficacy of Chinese Medicine Five Element Music Therapy for Stress Reduction as a Function of Cultural Background

Michael Frishkopf, Director, Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology; Lead, International Indigenous Medicine, Integrative Health Network; Adjunct, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry; Professor of Music, Department of Music, Faculty of Arts. University of Alberta, Edmonton

Wu Yu, Professor of Medicine and Liao Juan, Associate professor of Nursing, Xi Yuan Hospital. China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences, Beijing

Aanchel Gupta, Research Assistant

See presentation here

Overview

The purpose of this pilot study is to explore the impact of Chinese medicine Five Element Music Therapy (henceforth, FEMT) for stress reduction as a function of cultural background. Specifically, we compare FEMT’s efficacy among subjects in Canada and in China when following identical experimental protocols, using Western classical music as a control. The study also paves the way to establish a sustainable and cooperative relationship between two University of Alberta units (the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology, and the Integrative Health Institute) and the Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences (Xi Yuan Hospital), building on an existing MoU towards a sustainable collaborative scientific partnership between our institutions, and towards a projected major grant application centered on music therapy. Finally the study will serve to train students in experimental procedures.

FEMT is an approach to music therapy deploying Chinese music and grounded in principles of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), specifically the five element approach to health, healing, and wellbeing. FEMT is relatively marginal within TCM and is under-researched even in China, in comparison to other TCM areas, though FEMT has been the subject of several recent studies, including two co-authored by proposed co-researcher Liao, affirming its effectiveness (Chen et al. 2015; Facai et al. 2017; Legge 1999; Liao et al. 2013, 2018). The proposed study is designed to disentangle FEMT from culture, addressing the question: does FEMT’s effectiveness result from Chinese cultural predispositions? We seek to find out.

Generally speaking, music therapy aims to deploy musical interventions to heal, to improve quality of life, and to maintain well-being, particularly in the domain of mental health, neurological dysfunctions, and sleep disorders. (Kamioka et al. 2014) Interventions may be administered individually and clinically, or in community settings. Use of music therapy should be grounded in evidence-based studies, though practice often outpaces systematic scientific research. Despite strong interest among musicians worldwide, scattered professional programs, and a number of English-language journals devoted to the subject (Journal of Music Therapy; Music Therapy Perspectives; Canadian Journal of Music Therapy; Music Therapy Today), music therapy programs are comparatively rare and music therapy comparatively understudied, in relation to other therapeutic approaches, whether in biomedicine or alternative medicine, and a fortiori for FEMT. For instance in Canada there are only a handful of music therapy programs leading to certification (Capilano University; Canadian Mennonite University; Wilfrid Laurier University; Acadia University; Concordia University); all focus on Western music therapy, leading to credentials recognized by the Canadian Association of Music Therapy; none includes FEMT. At the UofA, while music therapy courses are offered at St. Joseph’s college, music therapy is absent as a formal degree or research program. However there is tremendous interest in the potential of music therapies for integrative and community health, and the subject has been a focal point for development at the Integrative Health Institute through development of a proposal (“Music as Medicine”; as yet unfunded), as well as community-based approaches organized by the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology under the rubric “Music for Global Human Development” (m4ghd.org).

The present project extends the scope of music therapy research, aiming to enrich music therapy education and practice. We incorporate a cross-cultural dimension to music therapy research, in four respects: (1) by including traditional Chinese philosophical, scientific, and medical perspectives on music therapy, including FEMT; (2) by including Chinese music, as well as Western music (as a control); (3) by comparing two culturally contrastive research populations—one in Canada, the other in China -- in order to understand the effects of culture on therapeutic efficacy; (4) by establishing an international research partnership between the UofA and one of the UofA’s existing China partners, Xiyuan Hospital of the Chinese Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences.