This whole pandemic has completely thrown a wrench in almost everything. The field of therapy, especially creative arts therapy, has definitely been feeling it. We were forced to totally shift how we work in order to meet with our clients online while the country was on stay-at-home orders. With states now beginning to open up, any in-person therapy we conduct looks very different. Because of this, you may be wondering what music therapy looks like during COVID-19.
At SoundWell Music Therapy, I’m still treating clients over teletherapy. Now that Colorado has lifted some of its restrictions, I’m also providing in-person therapy visits at my office. This has proven more difficult than I thought it would be as it has required me to reassess how clients and I can musically be in a therapeutic relationship together.
My clients and I now have different restrictions in-person than we do online. One of these restrictions when doing in-person music therapy during COVID-19 is that part of our faces needs to be covered. This can result in some things getting lost in communication. At least when we meet online we can see each other’s faces and facial expressions. We can vocalize and sing from the comforts of our offices or homes.
Although we can technically make music together online, it’s not the same as doing so in-person because often there is a sound delay and we get out of sync with one another. Even though making music together can be easier to do in person, it now looks a lot different.
Needless to say, in the time of COVID-19, music therapy has changed. So what does it look like now?
Safety Precautions of In-Person Music Therapy During COVID-19
One of the biggest things that has changed for SoundWell Music Therapy is the restrictions placed on us for health reasons.
Avoid Spending Time in the Waiting Room
To start with, I encourage you not to come early. My office shares a waiting room with several other practices. The less time you are in it, the less you’re exposed to germs.
Face Coverings and Physical Distancing
Then there’s the fact that we have to wear masks and sit at least six feet apart. In my office, there is just enough room for this to be the case. This also affects how we make music together. For example, we can’t both improvise on the keyboard together, although it is still available for one of us to play.
Vocalizing in Music Therapy During COVID-19
There’s also the fact that we can’t vocalize together anymore due to the small respiratory droplets that get released into the air when we sing. Singing or speaking loudly increases the distance that these droplets can spread. It’s now recommended that people not only wear masks while singing is occurring but that they are at least 12 feet apart.  So even with a mask, the risk is too great for us to vocalize together, especially in such close quarters.
So you might be wondering how can you use your voice in music therapy during COVID-19. I know that this has been a very important consideration for me since I believe the voice is an incredibly powerful instrument and tool within therapy. What we can do is work through that together to find and create other channels of using music and written pieces to make your voice heard. I can also suggest vocal exercises and activities that you can do at home on your own. This therapeutic “homework” can provide you with some insights that you might want to bring into our next session together.
Another restriction is the types of instruments we use to make music together. We are limited to mostly percussion instruments and the keyboard, all of which can easily be cleaned in between sessions. But we can’t share instruments because I don’t want to take away from your session time by cleaning.
Music Therapy Groups
We also can’t have in-person music therapy groups. This is disappointing since vocalizing and playing instruments in a group is one of the best ways to foster connection through music. However, even though the group dynamic is gone, we can still find ways to connect through the music individually. It is still possible to engage in music therapy during COVID-19.
Available In-Person Interventions at SoundWell Music Therapy During COVID-19
Restrictions aside, there are still a number of music therapy interventions I can use for in-person sessions during the time of COVID-19.
Playing Instruments and Musical Improvisation
As I mentioned before, we use instruments in in-person sessions as long as they are easy to clean. The keyboard, hand drums, and the Hapi drum, a very versatile steel drum with a grounding and soothing sound, are all instruments that we can use in sessions together at SoundWell Music Therapy.
Another intervention I use is music listening. We can work together to create playlists that you can use for relaxing or exercising. Different types of music can work for motivation, and we create playlists for that. Recorded music can also be used for guided meditation. Here are some YouTube links for guided meditations I’ve recorded. You can find two of them here and here.
Although we may have lost the ability to use our voices through music in person, we can still write lyrics. You can record yourself vocalizing/singing at home and bring it into the session. This pandemic is forcing us to get creative with how we use music. But music therapy is a type of creative arts therapy. Creativity is the name of the game! It is still possible to engage in music therapy during COVID-19.
Online Music Therapy During COVID-19
Since the pandemic hit, I’ve been able to switch being able to provide music therapy sessions online. Similar to the restrictions on things we can do with in-person music therapy during COVID-19, there are also some restrictions on the interventions that I’m able to use in the telehealth format. But again, creativity is the name of the game in music therapy during COVID-19!
When I’m doing teletherapy with a client, we may vocalize together, which creates a connection. It also empowers clients to use their voices for self-expression and healing.
Vocalizing is powerful and it can take the forms of toning, chanting, mantras, and personal affirmations. It is personalized to you and your needs. In the online format, there’s something about being able to do it on your own, guided by me on the other end of the screen, that feels liberating. It can feel different and less vulnerable than if we were to vocalize together in-person.
Conversely, vocalizing can make a person feel vulnerable, and you can mute yourself while vocalizing with me to feel safe when you need to. This can also lead to a sense of liberation in that you can still vocalize as fully, deeply, and loudly as you want without fearing that someone else will hear you. (Unless, of course, you’re in an environment where there are other people around in different rooms.)
Playing Instruments and Improvising
Playing instruments from your home, if you have them, is something we can also incorporate into our sessions. A person may find it grounding and soothing to strum the guitar while talking about something difficult or painful, for example. Likewise, a person may find it clarifying to improvise a bit at a keyboard when feeling confused or unable to identify a feeling.
Listening to Music and Song-Writing
Additionally, we create playlists and write song lyrics, like in person. We also use recorded music. These interventions are the same as what we do in in-person sessions. We’re just doing them separately and sharing them in a different way.
Benefits of Music Therapy During COVID-19
There are a variety of benefits for engaging in music therapy during COVID-19. Two of the primary benefits are that music can help you to self-regulate from difficult emotions and music can be used as a coping tool. Being able to effectively self-regulate and cope with the various uncertainties that exist right now is crucial to being able to manage your mental health and make wise, rational decisions. Using music to do these things can have the added benefits of helping you to tap into your creative, expressive side or simply bringing in more meaningful aesthetic experiences into your life.
Using Music to Self-Regulate
Music regulates the body and, therefore, our emotions. Music soothes or energizes. During this time of COVID-19, where there’s so much uncertainty about what’s going on, it’s important for us to have tools at our disposal that can help us to effectively self-regulate. Sometimes we need to be soothed and other times we need to be energized.
Music helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms and relaxes the body. Playing music you find calming or vocalizing by humming or singing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This is one way we self-regulate through music.
Another way music can help with self-regulation is by choosing to listen to music that matches what you’re feeling. Once you’ve validated your feelings and had your experience matched and supported through the music, you might want to choose a song that captures how you’d like to feel. It’s important to take note of your experience(s) listening to the music.
Using Music to Cope
The state of the world in this time of COVID-19 is uncertain. It’s causing a lot of people increased anxiety and stress. People need to find healthy ways to manage this increased stress and anxiety. One way to cope is through music.
Music is a way to cope with everything that’s been going on. Music brings up powerful memories for us, both good and bad. This can help us to gain valuable perspective on our current situation. We use music to express ourselves and create new memories by making music or attaching new meaning to songs.
Besides expressing ourselves through music, we use recorded music as a coping tool. Playlists are a great resource. We can make playlists for relaxing and calming down. You can use playlists for exercising, dancing, cleaning, and doing house chores. You can also use a playlist as motivation or to feel empowered.
And sometimes you might need to simply enjoy the silence if you’re feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. That’s ok, too. Listen to what your inner wisdom is telling you that you need.
Music as a Source of Stability
When it comes to using music to cope with everything that’s going on in our lives, it’s important to remember that music provides a sense of stability. It also creates connection. Whether it’s with your music therapist, or with your partners, family members and friends, music connects us to others.
Music as a Source of Normalcy
Music also gives us a sense of normalcy during a time that feels anything but normal. Music is universal, we all listen to and enjoy it. Everyone has their types of music that they listen to. Sharing music with others is a normal thing that we do in our daily lives. We did it before COVID-19 and we’ll continue to do it as we move through our “new normal.”
Music Therapy in the “New Normal”
At SoundWell Music Therapy, I do everything I can to support you in enhancing your mental well-being through music therapy. It may look different, it may feel different, but so does this “new normal” we’re all living in. The important thing is that we’re adapting and growing together.
If you’re looking to expand your therapy horizons and explore music therapy with me at SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, be sure to contact me. I offer a free 30-minute phone consultation during which we can talk more about what your needs are. You can schedule here.https://www.emoryhealthcare.org/centers-programs/voice-center/covid-updates-choral-singers.pdf