Belinda Lydon
Music Therapist

Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is the use of improvised music to develop a relationship between client and therapist. The Music Therapist and client improvise together using a range of tuned and percussion instruments that anyone can play. Music is the means by which therapeutic aims can be addressed. These may be development of social skills, ways of relating and interacting or to express emotions non-verbally. Music Therapy can meet the needs of the whole person including physical, emotional, mental, social and cognitive needs. It aims to give the client a better quality of life.

Music Therapists believe that everyone is born with the capacity to relate or respond to music. Illness, injury or disability does not affect people's ability to respond to music. As making music is non-verbal, language is not necessary in a Music Therapy relationship. It is the active making of music itself that provides a means of communication between client and therapist. Music can also be an immediate form of expression where words just cannot describe what we are feeling.

Who can benefit from Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is particularly beneficial for children, adolescents and adults with:

  • Mental health needs
  • Learning disabilities (whether mild, moderate, severe or profound and multiple)
  • Autism
  • Brain injuries
  • Developmental delay
  • Physical disabilities
  • Chronic pain
  • Dementia
  • Sensory impairments
  • Emotional/Behavioural problems

What Happens In a Musc Therapy Session?

At a Music Therapy session there will be a wide range of musical instruments available. The sessions are largely client-led meaning that the therapist responds to and supports whatever music or sounds the client makes. The session is based on the client and therapist improvising together. This can either be a completely free way of playing or may be based on a discussion, feeling or anything else that the client brings with them to therapy. Over time and through playing together, the client and therapist will develop a relationship which can help them work through their difficulties. Although the session is based on active music-making, the client can use the space in a way they feel comfortable. If there is a time when they need to talk or be silent, the therapist will support this.

With children, the Music Therapist would provide some structure to the session such as 'hello' and 'goodbye' songs and perhaps some familiar nursery rhymes to help engage the child. What happens in a session depends very much on the individual client and what their needs are.

How can Music Therapy help?

The ways in which Music Therapy can help people are numerous. Music has many functions in our lives and some of these are used in Music Therapy. For many people, music is essentially social. Making music with others involves listening, turn-taking, sharing, and communicating. Therefore these skills can be developed in Music Therapy as the client improvises with the therapist or with a group. In this way, aims such as developing confidence, self-esteem, self awareness can be addressed directly through the music.

Another function of music is that it can express how we are feeling without needing words. Many people who come to Music Therapy have emotional difficulties. They may find it hard to express themselves or be holding onto many difficult emotions. Music Therapy can provide a safe space and a trusting relationship where these feelings can be explored and contained. A Music Therapist will accept the person as they are and help them work through their difficulties. Playing music can be a release and can be a more immediate expression than trying to find the right words.

Music can also be a great motivator especially for people with physical disabilities. Making music can help with physical awareness and help to motivate people to move to create sounds. Music Therapy can also motivate people to use their voices at a preverbal level. For those who do not have language, they may not use their voices much at all. However, in Music Therapy through improvisation and the use of song they may begin to use their voice to express themselves. For young children, this may help lead to development of language eventually as they explore using their voice to babble and vocalise with the Music Therapist.