A question that I often get asked is about what it is that I do as a music therapist, or some other variation of what music therapy is. I live in a part of the United States that fortunately recognizes the value of music. There is a vibrant music scene, as well as sound healers, therapeutic musicians, and Acutonics practitioners. As well, there are retirement communities in the area that are implementing music listening programs, such as the Music and Memory program, made famous by the recent documentary, “Alive Inside.”
This is all wonderful, and I appreciate living somewhere that already values music and sound in all of its diversity. However, with these varieties of musical experiences available, it is inevitable that misconceptions of music therapy exist. So let’s take a look at some of the things that I do (and don’t do) as a music therapist:
- I use music to address therapeutic goals that are non-musical in nature. When I say that, I mean that I use the elements of music and musical expression to help clients achieve the positive change and growth that they want. The music used is non-prescriptive, and includes activities such as improvisation, playing a song on an instrument, singing, song-writing, and lyric analysis, in addition to listening to music. Musical activities are determined by the goals of our therapeutic work together, as well as tailored to meet the person’s individual needs and abilities.
- However, it’s not ALL about the music. In music therapy, and especially in the work that I do as a counselor, the therapeutic relationship itself is important. While research shows that engaging with, and within, music has a variety of benefits, ranging from those that help our mental functioning to our physiological functioning, research also shows that being in healthy social relationships are also beneficial.
Studies done in the field of attachment suggest that human beings are hard-wired to be in relationship with others, and the quality of our early relationships with our parents or primary caregivers affects how we interact with others as we grow older. These patterns of relating with others can be changed through the interpersonal and the intrapersonal work involved with engaging in therapy.
As a music psychotherapist, I create with my clients a therapeutic relationship that includes, but goes beyond, our interpersonal relationship to include the relationship a person has, or develops with, the music, as well as with themselves. Engaging with another person therapeutically in music is multidimensional and culturally ancient, but as a Music Therapist, Board Certified (MT-BC), I also approach my work informed and shaped by the science of now.
- My approach is adapted to whom I am working. Every person or group I work with is different, each having differing needs and abilities. I work to meet them both musically and with my presence in order to meet them where they are at, while also helping them to grow to where they want to be. For example, my approach to working with children and their families looks different than how I approach my work with those who have a terminal illness, and their families. Likewise, my work looks different when I’m working with a well adult who has an interest in personal growth, versus how I work with older adults who have memory impairment(s).
I hope that this article helps answer the question of how work I as a music therapist. It is clear that there are many ways that we can each benefit, grow, and heal from music and sound. Therefore, it is important to understand how music therapists work with music.