Is Brain Music Snake Oil?

The Houston Chronicle has an interesting article that looks at Brain Music Therapy, the medical practice of using brain waves to generate music to help people relax.

“Your brain is actually listening to the best of itself,” said William Wade, a psychotherapist who offers Brain Music Therapy at his practice, the Institute for Family Psychology, in West University Place. “It models itself after the brain music.”

Developed overseas in the early 1990s, the therapy made its way to Houston only about a year ago. Since then, Wade and his partner, Carol Kershaw, who believe they are the only psychologists offering the procedure locally, have used it for nearly 100 patients. It has worked for most, they say.

But there’s still doubt in the medical community about the therapy’s legitimacy.

“When I put on my science hat, I’m skeptical,” said Max Hirshkowitz, director of the sleep center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. “When I put on my clinical hat, I’ll do anything that works.”

Hirshkowitz, who also is a professor of medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, said he’s not convinced, partly because it’s unclear exactly how the brain waves are made into music. That information is proprietary.

A relatively small study conducted in 2002 showed that patients who listened to their own brain music suffered fewer symptoms of insomnia and anxiety than those who listened to someone else’s brain music.

The technique isn’t cheap, and it’s not covered by insurance. The first recording costs about $550 and is effective for about three months for most patients because the brain adapts to the music. Patients then, for the same price, are encouraged to get a second recording, which usually lasts about four years, Kershaw says.

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