Music therapy is not defined by one specific set of parameters. There are many different methods and theoretical models that influence how music is used therapeutically. A certified music therapist will follow a model that is determined to be the most effective for the client they work for.
The Canadian Association for Music Therapy offers the definition that “Music therapy is a discipline in which credentialed professionals (MTA*) use music purposefully within therapeutic relationships to support development, health, and well-being. Music therapists use music safely and ethically to address human needs within cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social, and spiritual domains.
Music therapy can be applied to a wide number of client populations. Some of the more well known client populations music therapy serves include individuals with autism, acquired brain injury, dementia, developmental/global delays, and physical disabilities/impairments. Music therapy has also been effective in pain management, oncology, mental illness, stroke recovery, PTSD, and burnout. With proper preparation and rationale, the possibilities for music therapy are numerous.
A typical music therapy session is applied in either a 1 on 1 or group setting. Traditional music therapy group sizes range from four to eight clients. When assessing clients, a music therapist will assign a client to either individual or group sessions based on initial observations, client behavior, and what goals/aims are to be achieved. In larger groups, often a co-music therapist will work alongside the music therapist to assist with an intervention.
A proper music therapy session plan is carefully planned out, and a music therapist should have rationale for every musical and clinical component or decision within a music therapy session. One of the main ways music therapists do this is by setting goals and objectives. Goals are the main areas being focused on in a music therapy session, and objectives are how those goals will be achieved. Some examples of common goals used in sessions are demonstrated below:
Goal: Increase fine motor abilities by:
- Providing hand over hand assistance when needed
- Having client manipulate small shakers and percussion instruments
- Gradually reducing assistance as independence increases
- Targeting performance with both sides of the body
Goal: Develop hand-eye coordination by:
- Playing with a drum using one-two mallets
- Accompanying/supporting musical output with guitar
- Moving drum to harder positions as ability increases
- Encouraging client to locate instrument with their eyes before playing
Music can also be applied in numerous ways in a music therapy session. Two of the most common forms of musical performance in sessions are improvisation, and pre-composed songs. Improvisation allows clients to play freely on a chosen instrument, and can offer a form of communication and expression between client and therapist. When improvising with a client, a music therapist shall work to meet and match the musical output of the client, and to support the musical ideas that are generated. Using pre-composed songs can provide a sense of familiarity to a client, which can be beneficial when goals involve speech, actions or movement. Repeated use of songs can help establish a routine for a client who otherwise would have challenges learning them. Using desired songs can also serve as a strong motivator for client participation, and has even been shown to help with memory recall in clients with memory impairments. Composition, receptive listening, and experiential methods of music performance can also be effectively used in music therapy.
For more information regarding music therapy in Ontario and Canada, please visit the websites posted below.
Music Therapy Association of Ontario:
Canadian Association for Music Therapy: