What is Music Therapy?

"Music therapy is an established psychological clinical intervention, which is delivered by HCPC registered music therapists to help people whose lives have been affected by injury, illness or disability through supporting their psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social needs."

British Association of Music Therapy, 2019

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Music therapy is an evidence- and research-based psychological treatment which uses any and all of the elements of music (sound, musical improvisation, song-writing, singing, listening, musical instruments, music technology, etc.) to support people in understanding themselves and their strengths and difficulties in a deeper and more profound way. This understanding can enable and empower people to create more meaningful connections with themselves and others, and bring about the changes they want to see in their lives

 

Music therapists are health practitioners and allied health professionals (AHPs) who are trained both musically and theoretically at a specialist level to provide a range of mental and physical health treatments from pre- and postnatal therapy all the way through to end-of-life care. They are trained in many different areas from music psychotherapy, to neurological therapies, to working within educational settings. At MdC Music Therapy we specialise in adult mental health care, however our therapists are also experienced in working with children in different settings, as well as with the elderly in dementia care. Everyone is different, and we prioritise each person's unique mental, psychological, physical and cultural needs in tailoring our treatments.

 

Together with a growing body of research into the benefits of music in promoting the development and rehabilitation of speech, motor skills and other more physical and sensory responses, music therapy is one of the most versatile forms of therapy available; well-placed to tend to the body, mind, psyche, and soul.

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FAQs about Music Therapy

 

What is the first thing I need to know about music therapy?

There is NO RIGHT OR WRONG in music therapy. Every expression is respected as a valid form of communication. The only rule is that clients and therapists alike use the instruments and music in a way that does not cause any harm to themselves or others and prioritises the safety of everyone and the security of the space. This is how trust can be built in a musical and therapeutic relationship.

 

Do I need to know how to play the instruments to be in music therapy?

You do not need to know how to play any instruments to be in music therapy. Music Therapy is about exploring different ways of being with yourself and another through music and sound. The therapist, who is musically trained, is there to support you in addressing any difficulties you may have, or in thinking about different ways of communicating and relating through music, whether you have or do not have prior musical knowledge. The different elements of music can provide us all with alternative ways of accessing different feelings or opening up new neural pathways, and it does not matter if these are created from something as simple as tapping your feet, or playing funk guitar. The wonder of music therapy is in exploring these musical expressions with someone you can trust to value these expressions and to help interpret them if needed.

 

How does music therapy work?

Imagine this scenario: A child with autism does not have the words to express their frustration and therefore bangs their hands angrily on a drum. The therapist, sensing the frustration, improvises a song about feeling angry which matches the child’s beat and energy, and this helps the child to feel validated and understood. This could be as easily transferable to a young person with depression, an adult with psychosis, or an older adult with dementia.


There are many different music therapy approaches, however music is usually improvised, i.e. “made up” on the spot, and the communication and the dialogue in the music are created by the way in which the therapist and client respond to each other in the music. These responses may be discussed verbally after the musical play to support the client’s deepening insight and to illuminate the client’s communication and social patterns. 

 

What are the differences between music lessons and music therapy?

The aims of music therapy are to support clients with a range of needs, including communication and emotional difficulties. Although gaining some musical skill could sometimes be a by-product of music therapy, it is never the main aim. If a client would like to learn how to play or sing a song, for instance, the therapist may teach it to them if it is in line with the other aims of the therapy. However, the therapist will not teach you the fundamentals of music during sessions but instead, will use music in a more natural and expressive way to hopefully open the lines of communication. 

 

It must be made very clear that the music therapist is not your music teacher. The therapist-client relationship is different from that of a teacher-student and requires a particular kind of sensitivity, confidentiality, and training. If you do want to learn music at any point, the therapist can support you in achieving that goal through nurturing your confidence and motivation and possibly helping to signpost you to someone who could help.

How many sessions must I have?

There is no set number of sessions, however therapy is about building a relationship between client and therapist. As such, we recommended a minimum of 10-12 sessions. The number of sessions will always be decided together with the client or the client’s carer(s) after 3 assessment sessions. In some settings, only a certain amount of sessions will be available but this will always be discussed transparently before any therapy begins.

 

Can anyone have music therapy?

Music therapy is particularly helpful for those who have trouble communicating verbally. The power of music in evoking emotions and in allowing people to express themselves without having to find the “right words” is one of the reasons music therapy is so effective. Having said that, anyone who is interested in experiencing music therapy is welcome. An attitude of openness and curiosity can be helpful in discovering yourself through musical encounters, however that same attitude can also be something that one can find through the process of music therapy.

 

N.B. If there is a waiting list, priority will be given to those with more severe and debilitating difficulties.

If I am having online music therapy sessions, how will they work?

Whilst engaging in music therapy over a video conferencing app may not be the most ideal, many music therapists had to adapt when faced with how to continue supporting their clients when COVID-19 struck and playing music together in the same room was no longer medically safe. At MdC Music Therapy, we are committed to serving you during the health crisis and beyond by striving to be innovative and creative about online musical support. We have so far introduced a “music therapy experiment” on social media to reach out to people, and we have used novel ways of keeping music at the heart of our work with clients by thinking outside the box about how instruments can be used during online sessions, using technology to produce music and soundscapes inspired by sessions with clients, songwriting with clients, and using music as a response to our clients’ stories and feeling states. We pledge to always protect your best interests and to be transparent with you about how music therapy is adapting during this time.