Although rooted in ancient civilizations and found in every culture, music is often not recognized as central to wellness and therapeutic services. However, through my academic and professional work as a music therapist, I have witnessed the healing power of music. Music therapy is an evidenced-based, safe and effective treatment provided by trained professionals and can be a part of a successful treatment program or mental health counseling for people with mental health needs. If you’re interested in exploring music therapy, here is what you need to know.
What Is Music Therapy?
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals.”
Starting with an assessment, a qualified music therapist develops a treatment plan, including various music-based activities to address the client’s needs and desires for mental health therapy and treatment. Through this process, clients can improve depressive symptoms, increase emotional expression, develop positive relationships, manage loneliness, grief, and loss — and improve their overall quality of life. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves using words.
The following activities serve as interventions to address goals around self-regulation, coping skills, emotional expression, enhanced mood, social interactions, attention, and focus:
- Listening to music: As a great contributor to mental health counseling, music can include relaxation, performance improvement, regulating internal systems such as blood pressure, heart rate, etc., and reminiscing memories or experiences.
- Musical re-creation: This approach can address self-expression by playing or singing along to new or familiar tunes.
- Improvisation: Improvisation is the act of creating unplanned music alone or with someone else. It can increase connection and engagement and foster self-expression. Music therapy can also improve attention and focus through active listening and response when included in your psychological counseling.
- Songwriting: A client and music therapist will work together to create and notate instrumental and lyrical music. This technique can address emotional and social goals for the client.
- Music games and lessons: This approach uses planned musical activities to promote rehabilitation engagingly.
Why Music Therapy?
Music therapy can advance to psychological counseling and help people in many areas of life. It may include emotion and mood regulation, psychological stability, physical health, spirituality, cognitive maintenance/development, and social benefits. Other benefits of music therapy include:
- Lowering blood pressure
- Improving memory
- Enhancing communication and social skills through experiencing music with others
- Encouraging self-reflection by observing your thoughts and emotions
- Reducing muscle tension
- Teaching self-regulation by developing healthy coping skills to manage your thoughts and emotions
- Increasing motivation
- Managing pain
Who Provides Music Therapy?
A professional music therapist holds a bachelor’s degree in music therapy from an AMTA-approved college and university program. The curriculum focuses on musical foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy principles as specified in the AMTA Professional Competencies. In addition to the academic coursework, the bachelor’s degree requires 1200 hours of clinical training, including a supervised internship. Graduate degrees in music therapy focus on advanced clinical practice and research.
Who Can Benefit?
Music therapy is offered in individual and group formats along with mental health counseling in child and adolescent behavioral health and adults. Music therapists are found in many settings, including inpatient and outpatient psychiatric hospitals, detoxification and relapse prevention programs, forensic or correctional settings, private in-home services, and many more.
It has demonstrated effectiveness for clients with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, bipolar and related disorders, depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, substance-related disorders, trauma, stressor-related disorders, personality disorders, and more. Music therapy is also an effective treatment method for children with mental health therapy and other needs. Because of the non-threatening nature of music, children often respond well to music interventions and enjoy this treatment model. When guided by a clinical music therapist, music can help children and adolescents:
- Foster social and communication skills in group therapy
- Identify how their thoughts and feelings influence their behaviors and actions.
- Learn how to self-regulate
- Develop healthy coping skills
When Should I Seek Music Therapy Services?
The same rules apply to seeking music therapy as any other mental health service, such as mental health counseling. Music therapy may be a promising treatment when symptoms are interfering significantly with your day-to-day life, your ability to go to or be productive at work/ school, or your relationships. If you’re looking to improve depressive symptoms, improve emotional expression, foster positive relationships, or address loneliness, grief, and loss, you should consider pursuing this treatment model.
Music therapy would be an excellent avenue along with your mental health counseling to address these concerns if you are feeling overwhelmed or experiencing grief, living with substance abuse and dependence, or have experienced a traumatic event or sustained trauma.
Where Do I Find Music Therapy Services?
Check out the American Music Therapy Association to find a music therapist near you.
To learn more, The American Music Therapy Association recommends accessing “The Journal of Music Therapy: (JMT) and “Music Therapy Perspectives” (MTP) social media channels:
- JMT Instagram
- JMT Twitter
- MTP Twitter
- Podcasts released on MTP’s homepage
- JMT and MTP joint Facebook page
- You are invited to follow, like, and share updates posted to the JMT and MTP Twitter, Instagram, blog, and Facebook accounts, and you are encouraged to follow and use the hashtags #mtresearch, #AMTA_JMT, and #AMTA_MTP.