I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the important issue of music therapy in the House and I thank the Minister of State for staying on to answer the Adjournment debate. The Ministers of State, Deputies John Moloney and Jimmy Devins, and their predecessors will be very familiar with this matter because in September 2006 after a year's research I completed a report, Defining Music Therapy, on behalf of the Joint Committee on Arts, Sports, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, of which I was Chairman at the time. Before I started the research I knew clearly that music therapy was very important but when I finished it I was shocked that although students can qualify as music therapists from the University of Limerick, the only location on the island of Ireland where students can so qualify, there is no professional recognition in this country for the profession of music therapist. On the other hand, if students leave the University of Limerick and go to Northern Ireland, they will be treated in the same fashion as occupational, speech and language therapists and physiotherapists. They are not physical therapists or "musical" therapists but are in the same category as all the recognised professions in our health sector.
In the context of our current economic situation there are many people who might not have admitted to or perhaps might not have had mental health difficulties in the past. There is a move to try to deal with mental health in a new way and I commend Senator Frances Fitzgerald, who is present, and Deputy Chris Andrews, who were involved today in the inauguration of a special cross-party, cross-sectoral approach to the issue of mental health. That shows there is an issue that must be addressed.
I have been dealing with this matter since 2006 in trying to have that professional recognition established. I commend the Ministers of State who have been in charge of this area because they have made efforts to ensure that we at least know the path and have been cogent in our arguments. I recognise Professor Jane Edwards of University of Limerick on the magnificent work being done there. At different times, one can hear her on RTE explaining that work.
Music therapy plays a central role in preventing repetitive behaviour and improving speech in autistic children, in returning speech to stroke victims and making Alzheimer's disease patients comfortable, as music is one of the only senses that transcends both sides of the brain. While people with Alzheimer's disease might not get better because of music therapy, they will have a better quality of life.
Everything in health must be backed up by facts and statistics. Previously, one could state that something was anecdotally this or that, but there are now facts to support the claim that music therapy works, and it should be central to any theme. In every other English language health system, it is central. I will not bore anyone with facts, but I will cite some of the comments made by people working in the system. The majority of symptoms in children and adults, including attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and many more, are the direct result of electrical imbalances in the brain. Many environmental factors can produce such an imbalance of electrical activity and function of both sides of the brain. These have been documented as an increase of activity on one side or a decrease of activity on the other side. Research has shown that the side of the brain that is most problematic is most often the side that is understimulated. Brain balance music as a stimulant can be a powerful tool in achieving that balance.
I am not discussing someone feeling better because I played a guitar or sang a song. This is a clinical intervention that uses music to bring people out of themselves, to discover problems and to work in a multidisciplinary team to ensure that the patient can be clinically assessed and given a programme and can come out the other side as a functional person.
Dr. Oliver Sacks, who is relatively famous for writing many books from which a number of films were made, including "Awakenings", described music therapy. He is claimed to be superb in that he surveys the use of music as a therapy, how singing can transform the brain's right hemisphere into an efficient linguistic organ when the left has been knocked out by a stroke and how rhythmic music can unlock the movements of sufferers of Parkinson's disease by imposing an external beat on their frozen internal clocks. Since music memory seems to survive longer than——