Music Therapy, What does it Look Like and How Does it Work?

In my area, Music Therapy is a service that is not well-known.  Often, people who have not previously heard of Music Therapy hear that I am a Music Therapist and ask “So, what do you do? Play music to them?” (My clients).   I think we are so accustomed to teaching methods that something other than that such as facilitating is hard to conceptualize.

Because music is structure over time, what one may see in my therapy room is not what some people may expect.  It certainly does not look like a classroom scenario.  In fact, upon walking by, glancing in, it may look unstructured or chaotic.  A  child may be hopping up and down or running back and forth screaming.  So what is going on?  How can this be therapeutic?

Any good therapist begins where a client is, and all behavior (once again) is communication.  I may not know why my client jumps or screams but what I do know is that they are communicating something about themselves.  I mirror musically anything they do.  I do this to play back to them, giving them a musical portrait of themselves.  It may not be by typical standards what you would consider “beautiful” music.

This a simple musical motif or phrase, something that the client is already doing or communicating that is not only being reflected back  but being given structure through the rhythm.  What is the point of that you may ask.

Our individual development from birth depends on our back and forth relational reciprocal interactions.  (For more information refer to Music Therapy – In Relationship –  We develop in relationship to our immediate caretakers, by the back and forth interactions of infant and mother.   Each reciprocal interaction or circle of communication builds our learning, relating progression.  Our earth, our bodies, our seasons, time, and development all happen in a repetitive rhythm – day to-night, sun up to sun down, season to season, year to year, one heart beat to the next continues to build in a repetitive rhythm.

When a child can come in with what seems like chaos and have it fit into a structure (rhythm) just as the chaos exists (jumping, screaming, running) and it is okay as it is, we have the beginnings and basis for reciprocity.  Life begins and development occurs with the give and take, the back and forth of relationship.  What is it that these kids need most?

Music is the universal language.  Music’s rhythm and repetition provides structural and predictable basis for reciprocity.  Sound is vibration which does not make even hearing a necessary must in order for the brain to process music..  In other words music can be open enough to include the ornamental chaos and predictable enough to give it structural basis for back and forth relating.

Antoinette Morrison MT-BC


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *