"Where words fail, music speaks." ~ Hans Christian Anderson
- Music therapy: a type of therapy in which music is another tool utilized in a
session. Music is used as a means into deeper creative expression and
processing. For many people, talking through emotions can seem difficult, or
even impossible. Through a supported musical experience, participants have the
opportunity to go beyond words and into an experiential realm of therapy.
It may be helpful to think of it this way: if talking is the tool used in traditional
psychotherapy, then music is the tool used in music therapy. When working with
a music therapist, using music as a tool may help a participant access parts of
themselves that have felt unreachable or disconnected for a long time.
- Music is a fantastic medium for many aspects of therapy - connecting with and
working through emotions, managing stress, processing life events, bringing
one’s awareness to the present moment, reducing physical pain, experiencing
joy and laughter - the list goes on!
- Many of us already have a deep connection with music in our lives: music is
often familiar and personal in various ways. When that connection is brought into
therapy, the possibilities expand, and with the support of a music therapist,
participants have the opportunity to engage more deeply with their own healing
and therapeutic journey.
- The flip side - Music as a trigger: due to the highly evocative nature of music, it
can also be triggering if there are particular styles or songs with which a
participant associates trauma - a music therapist is able to support participants
to identify what kinds of music can be triggering, explore the root causes, and
create methods of processing emotions and creating methods for safety
around these experiences.
- Music Therapy is research based: there is extensive research indicating the ways in which
music therapy is effective.
- Music therapy in mental health: in order for music therapy to be effective specifically in a
mental health setting, it is pertinent that music therapists have adequate knowledge of other
modalities that are found in talk therapy, such as empathetic verbal processing, understanding
effects of mental illness, trauma, as well as a comprehension of various theories; attachment,
schemas, family systems and human psychological development across the lifespan, to name
How MT is used in 1:1 therapy and in groups:
Typically, the first few sessions with a 1:1 participant will not involve music, but rather
an exploration of goals and foundation building within the therapeutic relationship. We explore
the person’s history, their reason for seeking therapy, and the ways in which music can
specifically address their unique needs. After a foundation is built, music can begin to be
introduced; the timeline varies with each individual, hence the importance of the music
therapist being adequate in other methods of processing so that the client may feel free to
arrive at the methods at their own pace. Some participants are ready to go in the first session,
others may need more time to build rapport with their therapist.
How music is utilized depends on the group - if the group is part of a series, there may be
some time taken to establish rapport and goal setting within the group, often around a theme
(recovery, grief, etc.) If it is a one-off, the group may be meeting with a pre-established goal
(emotional awareness, coping skills, etc.). Typically, the therapist will have an exercise pre-
planned to bring to the group, but with an ongoing group there may be more input from the
participants as to what they would like to explore together in their sessions. An overview of
how music is used in a 1:1 session and in groups may be through the following methods:
Vocalizing/Breathwork - an exercise focused on the sensation of the voice in the throat, as
well as harmonizing with an instrument or with the music therapist. The controlled release of
breath allows the parasympathetic nervous system to return to baseline and allows for the
Songwriting - Putting one’s lived experience into the creative formation of a song, supported
and accompanied by the music therapist.
Group Singing - participants learn songs together to sing in unison or in parts - goals include
but are not limited to - communication skills, problem solving, healthy risk-taking.
Meditation - the process of playing, singing, or listening to music is by nature grounded in the
present moment. We listen or play music to be in the experience; not to arrive at the end of the
Various musical games - the importance of play is often overlooked the older we get. Play is
fundamentally important in order to explore possibilities and connect with others in ways that
are safe and sincere.
Improvisation - Using various instruments to create rhythms allows individuals to focus on the
present moment and explore. Without opportunities for spontaneity and to feel the effects of
connectedness with others, people in “stuck cycles” often adopt an attitude of helplessness
that their situation is unchangeable. Through improvisation, possibilities may be explored, and
we learn that taking healthy risks and making mistakes is part of the learning process, and
does not reflect on one’s value as a person. And, that spontaneity can actually be... fun!