I always thought that music therapy meant listening to Norah Jones in the bath, or playing records to the elderly in Nursing Homes. As it turns out, I’m wrong.
What is Music Therapy?
It’s an established therapy for a wide range of conditions. According to the American Music Therapy Association it is used to alleviate physical pain, elevate mood, assist relaxation, induce sleep, and lessen muscle tension. As a treatment for an illness like depression it is an adjunctive therapy, that augments the other treatments being used, but doesn’t replace them. It focuses on reaching therapeutic goals, which sets it apart from straight music entertainment or education.
Who are Music Therapists?
Degree qualified allied health professionals, trained in music therapy, music, psychology, behavioral sciences, disabling illnesses, and a spattering of other things. They are normally part of a wider team of health professionals, working in general or psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, community mental health centers, rehabilitation centers, prisons and schools. There are also plenty of music therapists in private practice.
How Does it Work?
I don’t know. Honestly. It confuses me no end and I would need to sit in on a session to get a good feel for it.
Here is the best explanation that I’ve found, from the Association of Professional Music Therapists.
“There are different approaches to the use of music in therapy. Depending on the needs of the client and the orientation of the therapist, different aspects of the work may be emphasized. Fundamental to all approaches, however, is the development of a relationship between the client and therapist. Music-making forms the basis for communication in this relationship.
As a general rule both client and therapist take an active part in the sessions by playing, singing and listening. The therapist does not teach the client to sing or play an instrument. Rather, clients are encouraged to use accessible percussion and other instruments and their own voices to explore the world of sound and to create a musical language of their own. By responding musically, the therapist is able to support and encourage this process.
The music played covers a wide range of styles in order to complement the individual needs of each client. Much of the music is improvised, thus enhancing the individual nature of each relationship. Through whatever form the therapy takes, the therapist aims to facilitate positive changes in behaviour and emotional well-being. He or she also aims to help the client to develop an increased sense of self-awareness, and thereby to enhance his or her quality of life.”
Does it Work?
It’s been the subject of study for a long time now, and there is no doubt that it is effective for a range of illnesses (in combination with other therapies). The evidence is a bit light-on for depression, for lack of robust studies, although there is plenty of empirical evidence to suggest that it helps. Based on the description above, I expect that it is highly dependent on the individual. As with most every treatment many depressed people would benefit from the therapy, and many others wouldn’t.
Would I try It?
In a word, no.