Music therapy is a discipline in which credentialed professionals use to address human needs within cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social, and spiritual domains. Certified music therapists (MTAs) may also conduct and/or participate in research, educate and supervise students and professionals, facilitate knowledge translation, act as consultants, and provide professional leadership on the use of music to promote health and well-being.
Music therapy is used with individuals of various ages, abilities, and musical backgrounds in clinical, educational, community and private practice settings. Music therapists use various active and receptive intervention techniques according to the needs and preferences of the individuals with whom they work. These techniques include, but are not limited to the following:
- Singing is a therapeutic tool that assists in the development of articulation, rhythm, and breath control. Singing in a group setting can improve social skills and foster a greater awareness of others.
- Playing instruments can improve gross and fine motor coordination. Instrumental ensembles can enhance cooperation, attention, and can provide opportunities for practicing various leadership-participant roles. Playing instruments may assist those with prior musical experience to revisit previously learned skills, thereby allowing the individual to experience a renewed sense of pleasure and enjoyment. It can also develop increased well-being and self-esteem in those who are learning to play an instrument for the first time.
- Rhythmic based activities can be used to facilitate and improve an individual’s range of motion, joint mobility/agility/strength, balance, coordination, gait consistency and relaxation. Rhythm and beat are important in “priming” the motor areas of the brain, in regulating autonomic processes such as breathing and heart rate, and maintaining motivation or activity level following the removal of a musical stimulus.
- Improvising offers a creative, nonverbal means of expressing thoughts and feelings. Improvisation is non-judgmental, easily approached, and requires no previous musical training. As such, it helps the therapist to establish a three-way relationship between the client, themselves and the music. Where words fail or emotions are too hard to express, music can fill the void. Where trust and interaction with others have been comprised due to abuse or neglect, improvisation provides a safe opportunity for restoration of meaningful interpersonal contact. Where learning ability is limited, the opportunity to try different instruments, musical sounds and mediums may provide an opportunity for mastery of a new skill and increase life satisfaction.
- Composing / Songwriting is utilized to facilitate the sharing of feelings, ideas and experiences. For example, with hospitalized children, writing songs is a means of expressing and understanding fears. Lyric discussion and songwriting can help adolescents deal with painful memories, trauma, abuse, and express feelings and thoughts that are normally socially unacceptable while fostering a sense of identification with a particular group or institution.
- Imagery based experiences, such as Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), can provide opportunities to reflect, process, and interact with unconscious or conscious material that may be reflected in an individual’s life. Other expressive modalities, such as artwork and movement, can be used in combination with the music.
- Listening to music has many therapeutic applications. It helps to develop cognitive skills such as attention and memory. For example, for those facing surgical procedures, it allows the individual an opportunity to exert a sense of control over their often unpredictable environment. Listening can provide a sense of the familiar, and increase orientation to reality. For those with mental illnesses such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, music listening can facilitate increased openness to discussion and provide motivation for engaging in social activity.
Note: All information credited to the Canadian Association of Music Therapists. The Free Your Mind Mental Health Society is an independent youth-led organization. The contents of this blog are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. In the event of a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 911 or other local emergency numbers immediately.