The beauty of Music Therapy
February 23 2021
Experienced music therapist, Raimonda, shares one of her most cherished music therapy experiences and talks about the benefits of music therapy and how it can support individuals with additional needs.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based profession whereby music is used as a tool to help an individual’s wellbeing and health. In particular we use it to improve communication, social and emotional health, motor skills, sensory and cognitive development.
Why Music Therapy?
Author, Hans Christian Anderson, said “Where words fail, music speaks”. This is one of the main reasons that music therapy works, music requires no words!
Music therapy allows individuals to express themselves in any way they feel comfortable; musically, silently or verbally. Music therapists are specifically trained to support self-expression in a safe, nurturing environment.
The Power of Music
Being a music therapist has taught me to adapt to every situation. No two days are the same and I believe that’s one of the many rewards of being a music therapist.
I’d like to share with you my experience of working with a boy we’ll call David. David truly reminded me of the power of music.
David is a 10-year-old boy with a diagnosis of ASD (autism). He didn’t speak but enjoyed vocalising and making sounds with his mouth. David would find it difficult to regulate his sensory system which would cause him to have meltdowns and sometimes even harm himself. Often David was sound sensitive, especially when it came to singing. So, when I used my voice, I would have to keep it low and calm.
It was hoped that music therapy could help David express himself and learn to engage and regulate his senses and responses.
As David was non-verbal, it was difficult for him to express himself, but music seemed to really help him. When we started working together, David would only stay in the room for 5 minutes at a time before having to leave for a break before returning some time later. As our therapeutic relationship grew, David began staying in the room for 10-15 minutes at a time. Eventually this grew to a full session of 30 minutes!
The music therapy sessions were led by David. His favourite instruments seemed to be the keyboard, chimes and ocean drum, which is a shallow drum with beads inside that can make noises like surf on a beach. David would choose the instrument he wanted and we would make some music with it. On days where he was feeling a little more dysregulated or upset, our sessions would involve more relaxing music. I would play the keyboard and we would use an ocean drum.
This helped David keep calm as well as giving him space and allowing moments for some silence. Eventually David got so comfortable with me that he didn’t get upset by me standing closer to him or singing at a louder volume.
This is why I do what I do
One day I decided to introduce visual aids. Using pictures, I would sing 5 Speckled Frogs. After each verse, one frog would have to be removed. David’s face seemed to light up at this activity. It was at this moment, something shifted. The boy who never used to sit in one spot for longer than 2 minutes or hold eye contact, or follow direction, was suddenly smiling, making eye contact and taking the frogs off one by one when the right time came. He remained seated and engaged for the entire 7 minutes of the song.
This was definitely one of the moments where I thought ‘This is why I do what I do’. I showed a video of David to his mum and the big smile on her face said it all. I felt privileged to be part of such a moment and be able to show David’s mum his abilities that were sometimes doubted by others.
Music Therapy Outcomes
As we can see from David’s example, music therapy can have many positive outcomes. Participants can see improvements in a range of areas including:
- Improved academic knowledge e.g. learning about colours through various songs or using coloured instruments
- Improved localising and visual tracking skills
- Increased attention span
- Improved expressive and receptive communication/language skills
- Improved use of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) such as PECS, Makaton, Lámh (Irish sign language similar to Makaton).
- Encourages exploration of sound and use of one’s voice
- Aid in understanding of various emotions
- Emotional regulation
- Improved turn – taking skills
- Improved and encouraged use of eye contact
- Encouraged and improved peer interaction (especially when in group setting)
- Supported and regulated sensory system
- Encouraged self – regulation
- Improved gross motor skills
- Improved fine motor skills
- Encouraged overall use of motor skills and movement
Each session is different.
Music therapy is very adaptable, therefore it benefits many individuals across lifespan, no matter their age, gender, background or diagnosis. So you’ll find music therapists working in a variety of settings including additional needs schools, hospitals, nursing homes, palliative care settings, private practice and mental health care. We often work with other healthcare professionals such as psychologists, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists.
Each therapy session is different. We work to the client’s needs. Music therapy involves both listening to music and making music. We use a range of techniques including making music with instruments and voices, moving to music, drawing to music, song writing, talking about lyrics, and musical games.
Most importantly, no previous musical knowledge or experience is necessary to attend music therapy!
Raimonda is an IACAT – accredited music therapist at Sensory Space. She holds a master’s degree in music therapy and in addition is a neurologic music therapist (NMT). Raimonda is passionate about working with children and teenagers of all ages, genders, backgrounds, and needs. Her further passions lie in neonatal intensive care (NICU) music therapy.
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