A Look Into Music Therapy

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There are many ‘alternative’ (or more accurately put, complimentary) methods of therapy being used by man in order to bring about relief, release, healing, maintenance and upliftment. One of the most dominant yet overlooked aspects to alternative treatment is Music Therapy. The power of music to bring about change and healing has been known throughout history and literature. One of the earliest known examples of its use in this way is in the Bible in the book of Samuel; ‘… whenever the evil spirit was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it; so Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.’ Centuries later, professional music therapists are now trying to tap into this almost mystical influence of music to achieve similar goals in the lives of their patients. From the young autistic or disabled child to the adult with schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s disease, music therapy is being instrumental in the alleviation of these dreadful problems. But how is music capable of healing on physical, mental and emotional levels? For this we seek to answer the question, ‘What is music?’

What is music?

Everyday, music serves us faithfully, playing an integral part of our public and private lives. It is vastly used in arenas of national importance (e.g. National anthems) and personal significance (e.g. wedding songs). In many normal applications it supports or transcends spoken word. It therefore cannot be seen as simply a vehicle for the emotions but also as a complex creation of the intellect.

Stravinsky wrote: ‘I know that twelve notes on each octave and varieties of rhythm offer me opportunities that all of human genius will never exhaust.’ He was making reference to the infinite musical possibilities that the basic ingredients, rhythm and pitch, coupled with ingenuity and inspiration afford to him or any other human. Music can now be appreciated as a diverse entity, just as man is a diverse and complicated being. Music therapists can combine spiritual and emotional aspects with structure and logic; they can link the artistic to the scientific and the intuitive to the intellectual.

Positive manipulation of the inert human responsiveness to musical elements is the major tool used by therapists. This response amazingly is present despite of trauma to the organs including brain damage and coma. Psychologists have given the term ‘baby song’ to the earliest attempts of a baby to ‘talk’ to its mother. It is said to form the basis of language development however this early two-way communication is more song than speech. This research reaffirms that music links us to our basic need to communicate. Music therapy highlights this form of self-expression.

What is therapy?

At this point the question may arise, ‘How does music therapy differ from other fulfilling musical encounters such as the upliftment of singing in a choir or the enjoyment of listening to recorded music, whose effects have also been proven to be beneficial?’ Well, while these musical experiences are therapeutic in their own right, some distinct features separate music therapy from other forms of music encounters. The greatest of this is the therapist-client relationship which ensues the regularity, confidentiality and mutual trust of therapeutic sessions. This relationship is further developed through clinical improvisation. Free-flowing exchanges allow the therapist to be the listener and the supporter of the client, with the flexibility to move to new musical areas as the therapy demands. Although pre-composed and recorded music can be used during therapy, clinical improvisation provides the essential language of communication.

A suicidal teenager expresses her rage and despair through outbursts of drumming, and is supported by the therapist with complimentary music. As trust develops, the girl is able to allow other feelings of fear and insecurity to come out; these too, can be expressed in the music.

Analysis and evaluation of the sessions through studying audio recordings assist the musical doctor in making their diagnosis. And, as with psychotherapists, music therapists go to fellow professionals for supervision and discussion. Feelings conveyed in the therapy will benefit the patient’s everyday life and relationships.

Music Therapy in General

Music therapy is found in a wide sphere of places. From medical and psychiatric hospitals to prisons and residential homes, this precious form of therapy may be seen in operation. The range of instruments used is also immense. The therapist may use his or her own instrument which may be a piano or woodwind and a variety of percussion instruments are for use either by the therapist or the client. These include delicate bells and shakers, gongs, drums, cymbals, xylophones, lyre or guitar and are used as appropriate depending on the client.

To become a music therapist one must first have musical training equivalent to a degree or diploma from a university or music college. Entry requirements for postgraduate training courses vary slightly but generally because of the demanding nature of the work candidates need to have self-awareness, maturity of outlook and a compassionate personality. After successful completion of the training, there is a period of mandatory work under supervision before you are fully accepted into the professional association.

Music therapy is still a young profession and there remains a long way to go before it becomes fully available to all who need it. However The Association of Professional Music Therapists (APMT), based in Britain, is forging to increase exposure of this alternative treatment and the global acceptance of music therapy now seems inevitable.

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