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What is Music Therapy?

By , BSc (Hons)

The concept of using music as a tool for healing purposes is ancient – in fact, it can be traced back to at least the written works of Plato and his student, Aristotle. It emerged as a formal profession after World War I and World War II when the influence of community musicians at hospitals was realized as a positive influence for the veterans suffering from both physical and emotional trauma.

In this medical practice, the therapeutic use of music is used to address the numerous needs of individuals (psychological, physical, cognitive etc.). This form of therapy is best when it is tailored to an individual’s requirements - the qualified music therapist provides the decided treatment including composing, singing, moving to, or listening to music (if not all the aforementioned).

A great benefit of music therapy is the ability to use it in to address a great spectrum of needs. This is not least of all because of the diverse nature of music which can allow a person of any cultural background to benefit. It can also offer a more engaging and interesting form of interaction with people – this could be a reason for the growing interest in the field. In fact, research in music therapy is in support of its use in many areas such as:

Communication

Those having just had a stroke find their fluency and production of speech can be improved by singing to simple melodies.

Physical rehabilitation

Those with poor motor coordination benefit from playing simple tunes on instruments

Social skills

Those diagnosed with impaired social skills (autism spectrum disorders etc.) can strengthen their ability to both express their own emotions and empathize by considering the feelings of the artist of a song. It has been shown that such people actually exhibit a great interest in music and therefore respond positively.

Substance abuse

The creativity of music therapy can assist clients in exploring their feelings and self-esteem issues. In forming personal attachment and associations between the individual and music, it becomes possible to educate about substance abuse and steer the individual towards developing skills in forming relations, self-expression, creative thinking, effective communication instead of isolation and denial.

Stress and anxiety management

Individuals can be guided into learning how to recognize feelings and behaviors associated with stress. Music therapy can be used to induce relaxation stimuli so that stress is dealt with in positive, appropriate ways.

Palliative care

Music therapy can help alleviate fear and anxiety whilst encouraging relaxation to help those suffering from insomnia. The therapy can also provide an outlet for non-threatening self-expression by inducing a feeling of safety and comfort for the person.

Music therapy interventions can be categorized as active or receptive however a combination of the two is most common in an effective therapy session. These sessions can either be conducted with a group or individually depending on the needs of each person:

  • Active - this is when a person is making music i.e. making music by singing, playing instruments or composing music.
  • Receptive - this is when a person listens to or responds to music in approaches that include dance or the analysis of lyrics.  

References:

Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 3, 2016

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