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

In my last post, I started explaining how music therapy is different than other forms of therapy that also address goals like pain management, increased socialization, and decreased anxiety:

Music therapy involves music.

Not only does music therapy involve music, but music is what you do in music therapy. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the music experience is what makes pursuing music therapy worth it in the first place, even without considering progress towards “non-musical goals.” Those goals are important for sure, and we music therapists take care to assess those needs and measure progress. We also have research showing that music therapy interventions can be more effective than other interventions in making that progress. Still, if those goals were the only aim of therapy, then sometimes it would be much easier to take a pill or spend more time with another therapist than to spend time (and money) on music therapy.

The music experience is inseparable from music therapy. Attaining those meaningful music experiences is one goal of music therapy.

What is the role of the music therapist, then? In my last post, I talked about how one of my jobs as a music therapist is to help you get your music out. Here are two more ways that I can help you in my role as music therapist:

I’m there to help you nurture your own innate musical being.

Imagine Christy, a 45-year-old mother of two children in elementary school, who is also the primary caregiver for her 72-year-old mother. Christy’s mom has Parkinson’s Disease, and while she’s still in pretty good spirits, she has started having more falls, and she burned herself on the kitchen stove one night because of her hand tremors. Christy knows that the symptoms will only get worse, so she’s asked her mother to move into her home.

Christy is in the sandwich generation, being pulled in multiple directions, and she’s exhausted. She’s always loved listening to music when she’s stressed out, and she enjoyed playing clarinet in the high school band, so she decided to check out a music for wellness class at her local community center. There, I taught the class about how to choose music for relaxation and how to get involved in singing in healthy, enjoyable ways. After the class ended, Christy decided to have a few private sessions with me, where she experiences supportive imagery and music, as the music therapist plays carefully selected music and helps Christy explore the images that emerge as she listens. Christy has always had music inside of her as a source of support and comfort. I’m helping her to nurture and strengthen that inner musicality.

Non-musical outcomes?

  • Learning of new coping skills and practice in applying them
  • Access to supportive images to assist in relaxation and coping with the difficulties of caregiving
  • Pursuit of an interest outside of the caregiving relationship (a key part of self-care for caregivers)
  • Decreased stress and anxiety
  • Improved sleep

I’m there to help you find the music that was always part of your body and your soul. 

Imagine Joe, an 82-year-old Army veteran who has suffered a series of minor strokes in recent months. Joe doesn’t walk as well as before, and his hands don’t work quite right. He feels weak and is frustrated with his body’s failings. His mind is still strong, though, which is why he cannot tolerate those silly sing-alongs at the care home. Joe knows he doesn’t have a musical bone in his body – that’s not going to change now!

Somehow, though, Joe allows the activity assistant to convince him to attend the monthly drumming group in the large activity room downstairs. Hell, why not make some noise? It’s better than watching “The Price is Right” for the 1000th time. He joins in the warm-up songs, and quietly adds his beat on the little drum they gave him, following the rhythm of the music therapist’s footsteps. After concentrating on this task for a few minutes, he finally feels comfortable enough to listen to the other drummers in the group. Hey, they sound pretty good together! Joe experiments with different beats, finding his place in the ever-changing music. At one point, I say something about the group members “dancing on the drums.” Yeah, that sounds about right. He may not be able to walk without his cane anymore, but Joe is dancing on the drum now. I’m helping Joe discover that he does have music in his body, and he can let it nurture his soul and his spirit.

Non-musical outcomes?

  • Decreased isolation as Joe socializes with other residents
  • Improved mood
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved physical endurance, including increased use of his hands

There is healing in this outpouring of music. The observable non-musical outcomes are often where we place our focus, and we should (and certainly do) measure these outcomes. We cannot forget, though, that the music part of music therapy is a great reason for seeking it out in the first place. And hey, if you can help yourself and your loved one have a healthier, happier life through music therapy, why not do it?

What do you think? Is the music worth the effort to seek out music therapy? Leave your comments below!

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12 thoughts on “Music Therapy Does More Than Address Non-Musical Goals: Part Two

  1. Arlene H. Johnson says:

    Thanks Rachelle, Your post really points out how important music can be and how music therapy is beneficial

  2. Allison Andrews, PsyD says:

    Hi Rachelle, I love this post. I am new to music therapy but it makes so much sense to me as a psychologist. I have often had clients where I’ve thought another medium or way into emotional life would make so much more sense. Thanks! Allison

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      Thank you, Allison! Yes, music and art can be other ways to get into emotional life when verbal processing gets stuck for one reason or another. That’s why it’s so great for us all to work together to figure out the best ways for clients to heal!

      • Andrea B. Goldberg, LCSW says:

        Hi Rachelle,

        I agree with this 100%. As a trauma therapist, I have found that I need a wide variety of tools and strategies available to help my clients to heal. I believe music can be very soothing and can reach people on a deeper level than mere words. Besides, I love to sing. There is something very powerful to me about expressing myself through song.

        I look forward to learning more from your blog.

        Warmly,
        Andrea

      • soundscapemusictherapy says:

        Thank you, Andrea! Yes, expressing oneself through song can be amazingly powerful, yet many people have no idea how to get started with that kind of thing. I consider myself very lucky to get to help people find their voices and make music.

  3. Carolyn Stone says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    I really like the way you describe your work and its effectiveness. I really agree that just participating in music is therapeutic. I’m trying to figure out a way to get back to that myself these days. Years ago when my sister and I had to choose a skilled nursing facility for our mother who had multi-infarct dementia, the music therapist in the place we chose was one of the deciding factors. It gave us comfort to know that she took the trouble to learn what music was important to my mother and to meet with to play songs and sing them. Great work!
    Best,
    Carolyn

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      Carolyn, I am so glad that you were able to find a place where your mom could work with a music therapist. It’s so valuable and validating, especially for people with dementia. Thank you for your comment!

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