Simply put, music therapy is the use of music to improve the quality of one’s life. It is similar to other types of therapeutic interventions in that it involves a certified professional who uses clinical services to help their patients meet individualized goals. Patients seeking help with any cognitive, social, emotional or physical difficulties that they may be dealing with can benefit greatly from the interventions provided by music therapy.
Most people are aware that music can impact a person’s mood by it being relaxing or exciting, but there is more to music therapy than just that. Music therapists capitalize on the scientifically proven brain functions and reactions that relate to music in order to use clinically proven techniques that can make lasting differences in improving the lives of their patients.
Some of the findings that explain the effectiveness of music therapy include the idea that musical recognition precedes language development in humans. If you think about it, babies are rocked to sleep (rhythm) or put to sleep by lullabies (song) long before they can even speak one word. With introduction to rhythm and song at such a young age, humans are so naturally engrained with a tendency to respond cognitively, physically and emotionally to music.
As babies grow into children, songs are used as a learning mechanism for many critical lessons. The “ABCs” are put to a tune to teach children how to read and write, and songs like “Clean-up, Clean-up” are rehearsed to teach children to tidy up after playing. Therefore, even those who don’t consider themselves to be “musical” individuals end up going through life naturally responding, on many levels, to music!
As children develop into adults, the natural response to music is still prevalent in their daily lives. Children and adults are likely to have automatic physical responses to the music they are hearing on a normal basis. For example, as you clap, tap your foot, dance, or nod your head to catchy music playing, your body is physically reacting to the sounds it senses. The same is true, in an emotional way, when you cry or get the shivers as you listen to a sad or beautiful song.
With this reality in mind, music therapists use the natural reactions that people have to hearing music in order to uncover, discuss and heal their patients’ struggles. Some specific interventions that are used in music therapy include performance of instruments, singing, composition of songs, and activities that involve moving to music.
All of these interventions allow for healthy communication and expression of feelings between therapists and their patients in ways that are often more powerful than simply having a conversation. Music is a unique resource due to its ubiquity across the world and integral role in many cultures. Essentially every human has access to music in one way or another, and it is known for breaking down barriers and providing solutions in a variety of circumstances. Therefore, it is no surprise that the use of music therapy can provide powerful healing and growth to those who need it.