What is Music Therapy?
A Brief Overview
Music therapy is broadly defined as using music and all its various elements including melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre, to bring about therapeutic change. There are many ways to use music, such as active music making (jamming is a good colloquial term in case you’re wondering what I mean by that), music listening, writing songs or composing music without words, combining music and imagery, and more. Music therapy can be used for stress reduction, pain management, rehabilitation, and so much more. Music therapists work with many populations and in different settings. In hospitals alone, music therapists can be found working with all age groups. Here are some examples: they can be found in neo-natal intensive care units (NICU) with premature infants to help stimulate their growth, regulate their breathing, and help with feeding and sleeping. Music therapists work in inpatient psychiatric units to help patients make positive changes in mood and emotional states and have reality-based experiences through music making in the moment. They work all in medical settings for pre- and post-procedure situations to create a relaxed environment, reduce stress, provide distraction, increase recovery time and assist with pain management. Music therapists can also be found in the rehabilitation centers to help victims of stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI) to assist with learning how to walk or speak again. And there’s so much music therapy can do with patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, including utilizing music from their youth to awaken their memories, help them to connect with others, soothe agitation, and so much more.
Where Do Music Therapists Work?
Music therapy can also be found in schools, mostly in schools working with children with special needs, and there is a lot of evidence that music therapy is particularly useful working with autistic children. Music therapists work with children to help them to develop and increase speech, to help with general learning, and to provide opportunities to increase their gross and fine motor skills through movement and instrument playing. Through music, children with special needs also gain social and relational skills. Music is a powerful motivator, which is why it is so useful in all these ways, but even more so, music can bring an awareness of one’s self – physically, emotionally and psychically – and their outward environment. This is so important because many children with autism seem to be quite internalized and in their own world. Once the child becomes aware of their environment and their relationship to it, music therapy can help continue to expand their world and help develop an awareness of and relation to others. Since autism is one of my specialties, I will be writing more specifically about music therapy and autism.
Learning More about Music Therapy
The best source for learning about music therapy in general and all the ways it can utilized, is the American Music Therapy Association, the largest professional association which represents over 5,000 music therapists including me, along with corporate members and related associations worldwide.
What does music therapy have to do with music psychotherapy? There’s a lot of overlap. As previously mentioned, music therapy can help develop social and relational skills and transpersonal work which are issues of the psyche. For many of the reasons you might seek out a therapist - to explore personal feelings, issues in relationships, work towards positive changes in mood and emotional states, have a sense of control over life through successful experiences, work through transitional difficulties and grief, dealing with depression, anxiety or struggles with a substance, and more – you can see also see a music psychotherapist, such as me. For a terrific overview on music psychotherapy, I recommend the following article.