What is music therapy?
Music therapy is the clinical and evidence based use of music (in a controlled environment) as a therapeutic tool by a credentialed professional, to facilitate the accomplishment of individualized goals in order to improve functioning which may be physical, cognitive, communicative, social or emotional.
In simpler terms: music used by a Board certified therapist in a controlled environment to help bring about change in an individual with data taken over the course of time the person is seen.
What is the difference between music therapy and music education?
In music education, learning and understanding music is the GOAL. In music therapy music is used as a TOOL to help achieve the individualized goals in the various areas of functioning.
For example, drumming activities may be used to improve motor skills rather than teach rhythms. The client may learn rhythms in the meantime which is wonderful, but learning rhythm was not the goal/purpose of the activity/intervention. Music therapy is also a whole process which includes a referral, assessment, development of goals and objectives, execution of a session, and documenting data in order to track progress.
Where do music therapists work?
Some of the most common settings music therapists work in are hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, nursing homes, hospices, psychiatric clinics/hospitals, prisons, juvenile detention centers, client homes and in private practices. Music therapists often work in conjunction with speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
In addition to my stay at home mom life I have continued to practice music therapy by taking on a few clients through a school district in San Antonio. My clients have special needs and during sessions we work towards achieving targeted goals/objectives on their Individual Education Plan.
A music therapist working on motor skills, behavior, and cognition.
Gabby Giffords with Speech Pathologist and Music Therapist. The amazing difference between speech alone and adding music is at 1 min. 51 seconds.
Why music therapy?
- Humans are musical by nature- Our heartbeat has a natural and constant rhythm. Babies are soothed from a constant pulse which may include rocking, patting or swinging. Humans naturally walk at a steady pace or natural cadence.
- It's non-threatening-
- The music itself creates a non-threatening environment creating a safe way to explore feelings, behaviors, and issues while facilitating feelings of trust. It can be an icebreaker for discussion.
- Sets up clients for success. If a client is working towards improving attention span and is interested in piano, they do not have to know the names of the notes to make music during a session. A therapist can choose a color and place stickers of that color on the keys to make a chord. Other chords can be made with other colors. Therapists can hold up colored cards when it's time for the client to play that particular chord. The client is working towards attention span with something he/she enjoys and frustration can be minimized.
- Our brains responds to music differently- Music can activate multiple parts of the brain as rather than just one side. New pathways can be found when others have been lost or previously non-existent. For example language is found on the left side of the brain. By using music the right side of the brain can be used to access language, memory, or motor planning. When I was a student I had a client in rehab for speech who could not say the name of the hospital unless it was sung.
- Motivation- Music is just fun whether it's learning, participation, discussion or gaining energy/excitment through stimulation of adrenaline. I can count on one hand the number of people who have said they do not like or listen to music. The repetitive physical therapy exercises become entertaining when striking a drum and playing along to a song is now the focus of the session rather than lifting an arm up and down.
- Distraction-Our minds are naturally drawn to the most powerful stimulus. Enjoyment of the music may help clients focus more on the music than any pain and anxiety they may be experiencing.
- Music can address multiple goals at once- Say a client is doing an intervention where he/she echos the rhythms/music patterns of the therapist. This particular intervention could be addressing motor skills (gross or fine by playing the instrument), memory/sequencing (remembering the pattern), auditory skills (listening to the pattern or sounds), or social skills (turn taking). This can also apply to a group setting which may bring more opportunity for social skills as well. This could be done through helping each other with assigned music parts, learning to play together and work together, listening to each other for balance, ideas, etc, or communicating through the expression of music.
A music therapist working on multiple goals at once and using music as a motivator.
- Relaxing- Music of course can be calming or soothing. It may help relax the mind, muscles or any tension. Music also helps to lower cortisol levels in the body in a person who has been anxious or stressed. A lower cortisol level lowers blood pressure. People respond differently to different styles of music and therefore each person may have a different style of music that he/she finds relaxing.
- Expression- The powerful stimulus of music can intensify human expression of words or feelings. When words or verbal communication is not working, music can speak.
- Bonding-People can share favorite songs or styles of music. They can write, play, listen to or perform music together. This also may bring about association of a particular piece of music with another person.
- Teaching- We learn to make music or learn other concepts through music. Music can stimulate multiple senses at once which may facilitate the development of skills such as memory.
If you know someone who might benefit from music therapy and would like to find out how to set up music therapy services visit the American Music Therapy Association at www.musictherapy.org . Our association can help you learn more about music therapy and locate a therapist near you.