Music as Medicine
September 02, 2016
By : Inspired Woman Magazine

Guitar MTIMBy Marci Narum


Photography: OhFer Creative, Grand Forks


It makes us sing, sometimes at the top of our lungs.

It can cause us to dance, whether it’s pretty or not.

And a tune or words to the right melody can move us to tears.

But there is scientific evidence that music can do much more for us. It can provide therapeutic healing for the mind and body.

“Music affects us before we are born, in utero and to our last breath,” says Emily Wangen, a Board Certified and Licensed Music Therapist from Grand Forks and owner of Music Therapy in Motion, LLC.

Emily explains, “Because music affects the whole brain, it has the ability and power to build new neuropathways and increase neuroplasticity in one’s brain.”

Speech, for example, is processed in the left hemisphere. For someone who has suffered a brain injury, music therapy can assist in the process of rebuilding the neuropathways from both sides of the brain. This is what doctors refer to as neuroplasticity.

Emily says one of the most notable examples of this is U.S. congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. In January 2011, Giffords survived a gunshot wound to the head. The injury to the left hemisphere of her brain initially paralyzed the right side of her body and her rehabilitation included learning to speak again. Giffords has been very open with the public and the media about her recovery and the use of music therapy.

“Gabby attributed a great deal of her rehabilitation to music therapy,” Emily says. “Neurologic Music Therapy techniques such as Melodic Intonation Training, facilitated by a music therapist was significant to her speech rehabilitation. Melodic Intonation Training requires the individual to sing the desired phrase through prompting of speech rhythm, which is tapped on the left knee of the patient to stimulate the left hemisphere of the brain. Music innately stimulates Brocha’s speech area of the brain, which as a result conditions building new neuropathways from the speech center to the right side of the brain, where music is processed.”

Music Therapy is gaining momentum in North Dakota thanks in part, to Emily. After finishing college, she went on to pioneer music therapy in the state, helping North Dakota become the first in the U.S. to obtain a state licensure for the profession. Emily became the 4th licensed therapist in the state, and is one of 15.

“I have two passions: music and helping people. I am blessed to have the opportunity to be able to use both passions every day.  Whether it be helping a child speak or walk for the first time with the use of music, or helping a loved one take their last breath with ease; music therapy is an incredible profession. I have seen many individuals improve, increase communication and social functioning, decrease pain, and much more. My mission is helping individuals one beat at a time,” Emily explains.

“Music therapists work in a variety of settings—schools, nursing homes, memory care centers, and early childhood education programs. We work in private practice with individuals who have autism, parkinson’s, and traumatic brain injuries. We also work in psychiatric care, mental health, substance abuse, eating disorders, hospitals, pediatrics, and oncology.”

Emily and her team of five other music therapists work with groups and individuals in their homes, in facilities and clinic settings. Emily opened her first clinic in Grand Forks in July 2015. She opened a second in Fargo in April 2016.

This month, Emily will bring music therapy to Bismarck, where she will lead a breakout session for the Women’s Health Conference on Monday, September 19. Her session is called “Drum with Your Heart.” She says drumming induces relaxation, lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Learn more about the benefits of music therapy at and

[supsystic-gallery id=7]

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.