As a music therapist, I get asked the question “What IS music therapy?” a lot.
That makes sense. Music therapy is a relatively small and young field. You may have never before crossed paths with a music therapist.
When I’m asked that question, I often start by turning it back on the asker - “Is music therapeutic for you or for anyone you love?” This usually leads to rich conversations about the ways that people have figured how music can help them - to express emotions, to connect with others, to boost mood, to relax…and the list goes on.
So, whether or not you’ve heard of the profession of music therapy, you’ve likely experienced music’s therapeutic benefits. And those two things are distinct but connected.
What is Music Therapy?
The Canadian Association of Music Therapists (2020) defines music therapy as “a discipline in which Certified Music Therapists (MTAs) 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 always involves a trained and certified music therapist who forms a therapeutic relationship with their clients. Music therapists are trained to use music safely, ethically, and purposefully, as they work collaboratively with their clients towards goals in a wide variety of domains.
Music therapists facilitate musical experiences such as improvising, songwriting, singing, playing instruments, and music listening. In my own work, which has primarily been in mental health treatment settings, musical experiences are avenues for working towards goals such as identifying, regulating, and expressing emotions, communicating and connecting meaningfully with others, processing and integrating past experiences, exploring self-identity, and building a personalized musical tool kit for coping with life’s inevitable struggles.
But. No therapist is an expert in YOUR life. You are that expert. If you already have ways that you know music helps you in your day-to-day life, keep doing those things!
And, if you’re thinking that working with a music therapist might help you to navigate something that you don’t wish to carry on your own, feel free to contact me. If I don’t have availability, I can help you find a music therapist who does. Either way, your own experiences with music—whether you play an instrument, sing in the shower, or simply have this one song that you love—might be a great place to start.
My Music Therapy Practice
There may be as many perspectives on music therapy as there are music therapists. My own philosophy of music therapy practice includes the following key parts:
To paraphrase Carl Rogers, it is in recognizing that you are already whole that it becomes possible to also change and grow. I acknowledge the potential for growth within every person, no matter what you’re facing or have gone through. I'm committed to holding unconditional positive regard for my clients.
As I seek to understand the issues that brought you to therapy, I’ll also seek to understand your strengths. I view therapy as collaborative and see you as the expert in your own life. Music is a potential health “resource” for anyone and developing that resource might be a part of our work. Randi Rolvsjord is the inspiration behind these ideas.
I recognize that structural factors such as poverty, racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism—among others—impact people’s mental and physical health. The personal is political (thanks, feminism!). I'm committed to recognizing my privilege and co-creating spaces in which clients can tap into their resources and experience empowerment.
Theories from psychology and medicine are helpful in understanding music therapy, but so is an understanding of the ways in which human beings have used music for wellness, community, and healing purposes for millennia. The ideas of music therapists Ken Aigen and Gary Ansdell have influenced my thinking and practice in this area.