Hitting the right notes at Cairo University

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 5 Sep 2019

Gamal Essam El-Din reports on Cairo University’s new Music Therapy Department

Ghada Abdel-Rehim Ali, professor of the psychology of music at Cairo University
Ghada Abdel-Rehim Ali, professor of the psychology of music at Cairo University (Photo: Ahram)

Music therapy can be used to treat may conditions, from stress relief to mental, emotional and behavioural problems. It aids in the treatment of depression and anxiety and has been used to help older patients deal with memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Cairo University is framing its inauguration of a Music Therapy Department as part of its mission to introduce new arts and science disciplines to Egypt.

Ghada Abdel-Rehim Ali, professor of the psychology of music at Cairo University, says the department will be affiliated with the university’s Faculty of Specific Education.

“This is the first department of its kind to open in Egypt, and the credit for this goes to Cairo University President Mohamed Othman Al-Khisht, a progressive philosopher who is very much interested in using Cairo University’s influential position to spread enlightened, critical thinking throughout Egypt.”

The Music Therapy Department, continues Ali, aims to use music in treating psychological problems and train a new generation of therapists.

“Egypt has always been a major producer of music, and its musicians and singers are the best in the Middle East, and this helped a lot in protecting society from extremism and radicalism,” said Ali.

Ali, who trained in music therapy at the UK’s University of Roehampton and is a member of the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT), says the use of music as a therapeutic tool began in Europe at the end of World War II when thousands of people suffering from war-related psychiatric disorders were treated. There are now an estimated 400 music therapy institutes in Europe and America.

The first stage of Cairo University’s music therapy course will focus on treating dyslexia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children. Music can play a central role in improving the lives of such children and can, according to Ali, “help reduce incidents of bullying among school children”. Music therapy will also be used to treat older sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

In the UK music therapists must complete two years of training before they are licensed to practise.

“Professor Al-Khisht believes Cairo University should emulate the UK experience in this respect, and enter into a cooperative agreement with BAMT,” said Ali. As part of the programme the University of Roehampton’s A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy will be translated into Arabic.

The new Music Therapy Department launched its activities last week with a three-month introductory course, the first of five training levels. Successful participants in the course will be certified by Cairo University’s Centre of Psychological Research.

Course participants are required to demonstrate proficiency on one or more musical instruments — most commonly the piano, xylophone, drums or violin — since playing is an essential component of the 45-minute session around which music therapy is built. Trainees must not only learn to select the instrument most likely to elicit the desired responses from their patients but will also be taught to help patients express their feelings in the form of body movements.

Classical music is a basic component of the therapy course, says Ali.

“We will be using the work of celebrated composers  — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, and Schubert among them — in therapy sessions. In treating children Mozart has long been the most popular choice.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: Hitting the right notes

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