What do music therapists do?

Music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses; design music sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs using music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music; participate in interdisciplinary treatment planning, ongoing evaluation, and follow up.

Who can benefit from music therapy?

Children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other ageing related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labour.

Where do music therapists work?

Music therapists work in psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, medical hospitals, outpatient clinics, day care treatment centres, agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities, community mental health centres, drug and alcohol programs, senior centres, nursing homes, hospice programs, correctional facilities, halfway houses, schools, and private practice.

What happens in a session?

Sessions are individualised and tailored to each client’s needs. Sessions are client led. Sessions are active and hands on, where the therapist plays a joint role with the client, engaging in various music therapy techniques. Sessions almost always include improvisation where the client and therapist engage in spontaneous free music making where no rules are laid out using an array of instruments.  This develops a non verbal means of communication between the client and music therapist. Where feelings and mood states are played out through the music, creating a musical dialogue.  Sessions can also be structured using musical games, action songs, turn taking and musical exercises to sustain attention, build attention span, promote memory recall and build social skills.  Songs can be utilised for every day life skills, for counting, dressing, spelling, dealing with emotions and relaxation. The multi sensory nature of singing and singing games makes them invaluable in helping children, who have a variety of sensory learning style preferences, to develop knowledge. Therapist’s often use improvised songs to engage and to provide a sense of being heard. Therapists can match pitch, dynamics tempo, vocal sounds to develop a therapeutic and musical relationship.  Therapy sessions can also include music assisted relaxation where the therapist plays live music and prompts the client in breathing and relaxation exercises. Sessions are gentle, fun, active, multi modal and multi sensory.

Who is qualified to practice music therapy?

Qualified Music Therapist’s must complete the 2 year full-time Master’s programme at University Limerick the only masters in Ireland. Music Therapist’s must also have a first or second class Level 8 honours degree in a relevant or appropriate subject. We are also members and regulated by the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists.

What are some misconceptions about music therapy?

That the client or patient has to have some particular music ability to benefit from music therapy — they do not. That there is one particular style of music that is more therapeutic than all the rest — this is not the case. All styles of music can be useful in effecting change in a client or patient’s life. The individual’s preferences, circumstances and need for treatment, and the client or patient’s goals help to determine the types of music a music therapist may use.

What techniques do Music therapists use?

After assessment the music therapist selects and applies a range of techniques in order to achieve the program goals. Some examples of techniques adopted by music therapists to address the client’s needs include:

  • Musical Improvisation
  • Movement & Music
  • Music Making (Drumming, Singing, etc.)
  • Song Writing
  • Lyric Analysis
  • Creative Arts to Music
  • Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC)

How can music therapy techniques be applied by healthy individuals?

Healthy individuals can use music for stress reduction via active music making, such as drumming, improvising feelings, as well music assisted relaxation. Music is often a vital support for physical exercise. Music therapy assisted labour and delivery may also be included in this category since pregnancy is regarded as a normal part of women’s life cycles.

Useful links

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy session with a young autistic boy

Irish Association of Creative Therapist Music Therapy Overview

Music Therapy Fact Sheets