Music Therapy Does More Than Address Non-Musical Goals: Part One

The idea of music therapy can be confusing. What does a music therapist do, exactly? A common answer is to say we use music to address non-musical goals. For example, we might employ a particular method to help someone regain walking speed after a stroke, or to help someone express and explore their feelings of anger, guilt, and sadness following a divorce.

This description – using music to address non-musical goals – is truthful, I think, but it’s also incomplete. Our focus is not only on physical, emotional, and social goals.

As music therapists, we’re also there to help you create, enjoy, experience, and live music. Then, through the music, people can find many other positive outcomes.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit muddy. Let me try a few more descriptive phrases about what I do as a music therapist:

It’s my job to help you get your music out.
I’m there to help you nurture your own innate musical being.
I’m there to help you find the music that was always part of your body and your soul.

Is this making sense yet? Or does it still sound a little weird?

Let me share some examples from my clinical practice. In the interest of keeping this post short, I’ll start with one story to illustrate the first description above, then I’ll share two more stories in my next post for the second two descriptions.

(These examples are fictional, but they parallel experiences I’ve had many times in my years of clinical practice.)

It’s my job to help you get your music out.

Imagine Judy, a 75-year-old woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who has sunk into a deep depression after receiving her horrible diagnosis and beginning to lose her ability to live the way she is used to. Now, she is at the point that she hardly ever gets out of bed, not even for the quilting club at church or for her grandchildren’s performances in the school band. She barely gets out of the house for her doctors’ appointments, and she refuses to see a psychologist or counselor.

I come over to her house for music therapy, although she only knows me as a musical friend of the family. After exploring songs from several genres to assess Judy’s interests, we settle on singing old folk songs and hymns, with Judy singing a soprano descant on many songs. She smiles. She sings a few lines of songs as she remembers them so I can join in with her. She reminisces about her time in the church choir and the glee club in high school. She sings a special song for her husband when he comes back into the living room. All of those songs have been in her heart and her brain for decades; I’m helping her to bring those old friends back to light. Judy is getting her music out into the world again.

Non-musical outcomes?

  • A full hour out of bed, actively engaged in social interaction
  • Exchanges of physical and verbal affection with her husband
  • Brightened affect (smiling)
  • Life review about musical experiences, church life, and family life

This is just one example of how engagement in meaningful music experiences can help someone have a better life, in musical and non-musical ways.

As I mentioned above, I have a couple more stories to share to illustrate the other two definitions listed above. Watch for those in my next post.

In the meantime, would you answer two questions for me?

How does engaging in music improve your life or the lives of the people you care for?

If you could have the same non-musical outcomes without music and the music therapist, would you choose to skip the music?

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section!

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5 thoughts on “Music Therapy Does More Than Address Non-Musical Goals: Part One

  1. Ann Becker-Schutte (@DrBeckerSchutte) says:

    Rachelle,

    This is a really nice overview of the kind of work that you do. I used to do traditional one-to-one therapy in nursing homes, and some of my best sessions included accompanying patients to a musical session. I saw all of the changes and benefits you described. I know that music is central in our home–for relaxing and energizing!

    Warmly,
    Ann

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      Thank you for your comment, Ann! It’s helpful to know that you saw this with your nursing home clients, too.

  2. Allison Andrews, PsyD says:

    Rachelle, This is a really helpful introduction into the work that you do. I know some kids now doing listening programs to help with sensory processing issues. I don’t know if that is related to your work. But it seems all based on music and it is making quite an impact. Anyway lovely post. Best, Allison

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      Thank for the feedback, Allison! Listening programs for sensory integration issues are often facilitated by occupational therapists, from what I understand. Music therapists do work on sensory integration, though that isn’t my area of expertise.

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