Music therapists work in a diverse range of settings. Music therapists might be referred cases where they use music to: strengthen bonds between an adopted child and new parent; help patients in End of Life Care leave a legacy; or help someone who is agitated feel grounded and more relaxed. Some therapists have extra training in Neurological Music Therapy, that includes things like working in a more structured way to help stroke patients regain motor functioning.
This is a slightly edited version of something I wrote to help staff to understand why they might refer someone to music therapy. I was thinking about my work with young adults with learning disabilities when I wrote it but some of it applies to other people too. I will be making posts more relevant to other groups in the future.
People who are going through a difficult time in their lives (e.g. a recent family bereavement) may be referred to music therapy to help process difficult emotions which they cannot express in words.
People may behave in unusual ways when they feel they are not understood. Some people who can’t say how they feel in words become aggressive or self-harm. In music therapy, the therapist carefully listens and responds to whatever the person brings to the session which may result in a feeling of emotional release.
Self-esteem and Confidence
Music therapy offers a supportive environment in which people can gain a sense of achievement by making use of their skills and abilities, and making autonomous decisions.
For people struggling to cope with changes, such as joining or leaving college, music therapy offers a creative outlet in a secure environment where difficult feelings can be addressed.
People may use music therapy to help form or understand their growing identity, for example through song-writing and creating music that reflects them as an individual.
Attention and Awareness
For people with profound and multiple learning difficulties, music therapy can help them understand how their body connects with the world around them. Gradually they recognise their contributions being musically responded to they become more aware of themselves.
Awareness of others
Once aware of the therapist musically responding to them, service users are encouraged to listen and respond back. In a group, service users will be encouraged to listen to how others contribute to the session.
For people who are motivated by music, music therapy can be used to help improve attention and concentration skills.
Imagination and Creativity
Encouraging spontaneity and initiative
For people who experience rigid-thinking which is impacting their relationships and daily life, music therapy may be a place for developing a more playful side to themselves. Activities such as improvisation, musical games and song-stories encourage spontaneity and use of imagination.
Communication and Relating
Having the experience of being able to relate to others through music can reduce feelings of social isolation. This can then be applied to other social contexts.
Use of Voice
Music therapy can support language development, for example using rhythm and melody to emphasise key words. When working with non-verbal people, the therapist will respond musically to whatever sounds the student brings to the session, creating a feeling of being listened to and encouraging expression. Simple wind instruments can be used to support breath control.
Music therapy can help clients understand appropriate communication. Music can create the feel of a conversation, through the exchange of musical phrases. Music therapy in small groups can help students understand the importance of turn-taking and leaving space for others.
Hope that gave you some ideas. If you’ve found yourself thinking ‘oh yes, that could be useful for…’ then get in touch with a local music therapist!