Music Therapy

Music therapy draws on the power of music in a therapeutic relationship to manage a range of conditions and improve your quality of life. A music therapist tailors sessions to your needs. You may sing or play instruments, listen to music or discuss the meaning of lyrics. You don’t need musical skills, and people of all ages can benefit.

Garvan James Lynch
Supervising Pharmacist

M.B.A. (Public Health)

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is the use of music and/or elements of music (like sound, rhythm and harmony) to accomplish goals, like reducing stress or improving quality of life. A healthcare provider called a music therapist talks to you to learn more about your needs, music preferences and experiences, and designs each session specifically for you. They also evaluate your progress each step of the way, and may work with your other healthcare providers to coordinate your care.

The number of sessions you have, the length of each session and what you do depends on your individual needs and goals. Music therapy experiences may include singing, playing instruments or writing music. Some sessions may involve listening to music and talking about its meaning.

Healthcare providers use music as therapy in many contexts, including at the bedside for people in hospitals. However, music therapy isn’t the same as listening to music to help you relax. Music can certainly be a powerful tool for calming and healing. But the definition of clinical musical therapy states that a qualified music therapist must plan and lead the session within a therapeutic relationship for it to qualify as this form of treatment.

Music therapy helps people of all ages (children, adolescents and adults) and from all walks of life. It may benefit many different aspects of your well-being, including:

  • Mental.
  • Emotional.
  • Physical.
  • Social.
  • Cognitive.

What conditions can music therapy manage?

  • Dementia.
  • Traumatic brain injuries.
  • Stroke.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Cancer.
  • Autism spectrum disorder.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Developmental disabilities.
  • Pain (acute and chronic).
  • Substance use disorders.

Can my child benefit from music therapy?

Yes. Music therapists work with people of all ages, including young children and adolescents. They can design sessions to suit your child’s unique needs. Music therapy may support many aspects of your child’s development, including their:

  • Behavior.
  • Learning.
  • Emotions.

Do I need to have musical talent to participate in music therapy?

No, you don’t need musical skills or talents to participate. Music therapy is open to everyone regardless of their skill level or background. Your music therapist will learn about you and any musical background you might have before designing sessions to meet your needs.

Music therapy takes place in many different settings, including:

  • Hospitals.
  • Schools.
  • Nursing homes.
  • Senior centers.
  • Outpatient clinics.
  • Mental health centers.
  • Residences for people with developmental disabilities.
  • Treatment facilities for people with substance use disorders.
  • Correctional facilities.

What happens before music therapy?

Your music therapist will assess your needs and strengths. You may discuss your:

  • Emotional well-being.
  • Physical health.
  • Social functioning.
  • Perceptual/motor skills.
  • Communication abilities.
  • Cognitive skills.
  • Musical background, skills and preferences.
  • Trauma history.
  • Trauma triggers.

Your music therapist will work with you to identify goals and design appropriate experiences for your session. In doing so, they’ll consider:

  • Your music preferences and interests.
  • Your age and developmental level.
  • Your physical and cognitive abilities.
  • Your trauma triggers.

What happens during a music therapy session?

Your music therapist will guide you in making and/or listening to music during your session. You may do one or more of the following:

Create music. You compose music, write lyrics or make up music together.
Sing music. You use your voice to share a piece of music.
Play an instrument. You use an instrument like a guitar, drums or piano to share music.
Improvise. You and your therapist work together to make music and sounds that reflect how you’re feeling. This may involve singing and/or playing instruments.
Move to music. This can be as simple as tapping your toes together or as complicated as a coordinated dance.
Listen to music. With directed listening, your therapist makes music or plays a recording, and you listen to it. You then talk about the music and use it to help process your emotions or experiences. Your therapist may also play music to relax you, using the rhythm to guide you in breathing or stretching.
Discuss lyrics. You read or listen to the lyrics of a song and talk about their meaning.

Types of music therapy

Music therapists use many different approaches to meet your needs. In general, the types of experiences you might have fall into two broad categories:

Active interventions: For these experiences, you take an active role in making music with your therapist. For example, you may sing or play an instrument.

Receptive interventions: Instead of making music, you listen to music that your therapist makes or plays from a recording. You may spend some time discussing the music together as a way to process your thoughts and feelings.

What should I expect after my music therapy session?

Your music therapist will evaluate the effectiveness of the session and determine if it met your goals. You may choose to participate in multiple sessions.

What are the potential benefits of music therapy?

The benefits you gain depend on the condition or symptoms you’re treating and your goals for music therapy. Your music therapist can explain more about what you might expect in your unique situation. In general, research shows that music therapy may:

  • Help you relax.
  • Help you explore your emotions.
  • Reduce anxiety or depression.
  • Ease your stress levels.
  • Regulate your mood.
  • Strengthen your communication skills.
  • Improve speaking and language skills.
  • Build social skills.
  • Strengthen your self-confidence.
  • Help you form healthy coping skills.
  • Develop your problem-solving skills.
  • Reduce perceived levels of pain.
  • Improve your physical coordination, motor functions and movement.
  • Improve your quality of life.

What are the risks of music therapy?

Music therapy is safe and low risk. But it’s possible for music to trigger painful or unexpected memories for you.

To lower the chances of this happening, your music therapist will talk to you about your life experiences. These include any history of trauma or other aspects that may influence your response to music. Sharing this information, to the extent that you’re comfortable, will allow your therapist to tailor the session to your needs. Your therapist will do everything possible to create a comfortable, safe and meaningful experience for you.

How many music therapy sessions do I need?

  • It depends on your treatment goals. You’ll work with your music therapist to decide how many sessions you’d like, how long they should be and how often you should meet.



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