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What is Music Therapy?

What is music therapy?

You may be wondering, what is music therapy? Music therapy is a therapy style that uses music to improve and maintain your physical health, mental health, and well-being. A variety of techniques are used, including listening to music, learning to play a musical instrument, singing, and moving to music.  

Defining Music Therapy

Music therapy is an evidence-based treatment method where a music therapist, credentialed through the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), uses music within the therapeutic relationship with a client. They can address your emotional, cognitive, social, and physical needs through music. 

Music therapists are typically musicians who understand the way music creates an emotional response. They can use this knowledge to help you relax or heal from emotional problems. Music therapy can help to improve mood, relieve stress and anxiety, increase positive coping skills, and can encourage emotional expression. 

History of Music Therapy

Healing properties of music have been noted throughout history by Greek philosophers and religious texts. After World War I and World War II, music therapy became a profession. Musicians began playing for patients at veterans hospitals. Doctors became aware of the benefit of music to both physical and emotional health. They began hiring musiccreating music is music therapyians which led to specialized training programs for music therapy. 

Training programs in universities incorporated elements of music, psychology, and medicine. The AMTA was founded in 1998 to ensure that the field of music therapy is held to professional standards. The main goals of the organization are to educate people on the benefits of music therapy and to increase the quality of music therapy services.

Types of Music Therapy

There are two methods of music therapy, known as receptive listening and active. The different types of music therapy fall into these categories. 

In receptive types of music therapy, you listen to live or recorded music chosen by the therapist to improve mood and increase relaxation while decreasing stress, anxiety, and pain. Active music therapy involves music-making by patients through playing musical instruments or singing. 

  1. Receptive Relaxation. This type of music therapy is frequently used to treat depression, anxiety, and cognitive disorders.
  2. Receptive Analytic. Music is discussed with the therapist to promote discussion of life issues, reminiscing, and reflecting.
  3. The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music. An image is focused on while listening to music and can be a starting point for discussing problems. 
  4. The Dalcroze Eurythmics is a method of teaching music to children that includes structure, rhythm and expression of movement.
  5. The Kodaly philosophy of music therapy uses rhythm, movement, sequence, and notation to help patients learn and heal.
  6. Neurological Music Therapy uses variations in the brain both with and without music to bring about change in the patient.
  7. Orff-Schulwerk helps children improve their ability to learn through music. 

Music Therapy Techniques

Music therapists use a variety of techniques that can be beneficial in treatment.

  • Listening to music (live or recorded)
  • Music-assisted relaxation techniques (progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, etc.)
  • Guided imagery
  • Song lyric discussions
  • Discussing an emotional reaction to a song
  • Reminiscing while listening to music
  • Drumming
  • Singing familiar songs (live or to a recording)
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Writing music or song lyrics
  • Learning to play a new instrument
  • Dancing to music
  • Creating art with music (Music Collage)
  • Choreography

What Happens in a Music Therapy Session?

Music therapy can be done in individual or group sessions that typically last for 30 minutes to one hour. It can be done on a weekly schedule like many traditional psychotherapies, or on an as-needed basis. 

Either the therapist or the patient may choose the music. This will depend on the patient’s needs and goals. The music therapist may start and end each session with a certain song, or the music may be different each session. It is common for the therapist to match the music to the patient’s mood as it can lead to discussion and reflection of their current condition. 

Instruments or tapping rhythms may be used to increase fine motor skills, and people with autism might be asked to think about the songwriter’s emotions to increase their social skills. Drumming circles are commonly used in group settings to promote a sense of connectedness and an outlet for emotions. After a stroke, singing can help a patient communicate more effectively and enhance speech fluency. 

There are many different techniques that can be used. Your music therapist will choose exercises that are in line with your goals to make music therapy a beneficial experience.

listening to music is part of music therapy

How Music Therapy Can Help You Heal

Music can help you identify the emotions you are feeling. When playing an instrument, you can play louder, softer, dissonant or harmonious, a slower tempo when sad, faster when happy. All of these variations can allow you to express your emotions, or to change them through the control you have over the music you play. 

You can also do this through listening to recorded music. Design a playlist of songs that make you feel happy to listen to during times you feel sad. You also can listen to or play music that makes you feel calm to ease anxiety or lower your blood pressure, as it promotes relaxation. Heart rate and blood pressure both can rise or lower with changes in the volume and tempo of music. When you listen to music, endorphins are released, and can reduce pain.

Who Benefits From Music Therapy?

Music therapy is an excellent treatment method for a wide variety of people. It can be used with children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Music has proven to be successful in treating both physical and emotional difficulties. Here are a few of the mental health issues that music therapy can help with:

  • Depression and other mood disorders
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Substance use and addictions
  • Personality disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

Music therapy is also helpful with physical conditions such as pain management and hypertension. It can be used to help women in labor by managing stress and pain, and can improve self-esteem, coping skills, and verbal communication. Here are a few other physical conditions music can be beneficial for:

  • Stroke
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Other neurological disorders
  • Learning disabilities and other developmental delays
  • Speech disorders
  • Cardiovascular disorders
  • Cancer (stress and pain management, and coping with the diagnosis)

You do not have to have musical ability to benefit from music therapy. Your music therapist can teach you to play an instrument, or you can choose to listen to music instead. With so many different options, music therapy can be tailored to meet every patient’s needs.

Music Therapy Outcomes

There are a number of positive outcomes from music therapy.

  • Expression of feelings
  • Improved communication
  • Identifying problems
  • Resolving psychological issues
  • Improved emotional well-being
  • Increased social and cognitive skills
  • Learning relationship skills
  • Regaining physical abilities
  • Pain management
  • Stress management
  • Motivation to improve your physical or emotional health

Music Therapy + Other Interventions

Music therapy alone may not be enough to treat some conditions, but it can be combined with a variety of other interventions to help you feel better. This works well when used with medications (to treat physical or psychiatric symptoms), psychotherapy, and physical therapy. It can also be used together with other creative therapies, such as art, journaling, play therapy, and psychodrama. 

If you think music therapy may be right for you, contact us.

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