Ask a Clinician: What Is Music Therapy?

Erin: “Okay _____, it is your turn to sing.”
Student: “Hmm, I think I will let my brain sing this one.”
Erin: “Has it started? I would like to hear you.”
Student: “Shh, it’s singing on the inside. I have to press the button to make it sing on the outside.”

Music is a natural part of daily life. It is familiar, motivating, challenging, and nonthreatening. It is pervasive and yet non-invasive, flexible while being structured. Music draws people together, creating a space in which it is safe to experiment and express oneself.

“Music Therapy is a discipline in which credentialed professionals (MTA*) use music purposefully within therapeutic relationships to support development, health, and well-being. Music therapists use music safely and ethically to address human needs within cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social, and spiritual domains.”

Canadian Association of Music Therapists: 2016

*MTA refers to Music Therapist Accredited/Musicothérapeute accrédité

Potential Music Therapy Goal Areas

Music therapists use music-based interventions and the therapeutic relationship to work towards non-musical goals. These interventions may incorporate singing, songwriting, instruments, dance/movement, improvisation, music listening, discussion, and other creative arts. The overriding goal of Music Therapy is to improve quality of life and promote wellness. Within that framework, there is a wide variety of domains that Music Therapy can be used to address, including the following:

• Social: attention span, engagement, confidence, independence, active listening, turn taking, following directions, developing positive social connections, teamwork, making choices, and leadership
• Communication: self-expression, vocabulary, speech, using Alternative and Augmentative Communication, learning English, and receptive communication skills
• Motor: body awareness, fine and gross motor skills, range of motion/flexibility, muscle tone/strength, breath capacity, endurance, coordination, and perceptual motor functioning
• Emotional: self-expression, creativity/imagination, emotional awareness, self-regulation, impulse control, dealing with anxiety, coping skills, problem solving, and perspective taking
• Academic: spelling, reading/comprehension, writing, math, critical thinking, memory, and basic school concepts
• Other: sensory processing/regulation, leisure skills, pain management, relaxation, executive functioning, and self-care skills

A music therapist can also collaborate with other members of a client’s support team to increase consistency and encourage the generalization of skills across contexts.

Where Do Music Therapists Work

Individuals of various ages, abilities, and musical backgrounds can benefit from Music Therapy. Music therapists work in many different locations such as:
• Schools
• Hospitals
• Day programs for adults or children
• Rehabilitation facilities
• Personal care homes
• Mental health facilities
• Hospice and palliative care programs
• Residences for individuals with developmental disabilities
• Correctional facilities
• Private practice/consultation

Referrals for Music Therapy may be made by other professionals such as physicians, psychologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and teachers. Clients may also choose to pursue Music Therapy through parental or self-referral.

Example: Music Therapy with Children with Disabilities

Note: The RMT credential in Australia is equivalent to the MTA credential in Canada.

For more info, contact:

Erin Koop, BMT, MTA
Music Therapist Accredited

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