Why Music Therapy – Not Just Music?

It recently was reported to me by three different family’s of non-verbal, autistic children with whom I work, of the commencement of “pop out words” that began (outside the Music Therapy room) as the child began Music Therapy sessions. This is the only change that each child seemed to have undergone as these words started to happen as reported to me by each family. One thing about this bothered me. I knew why I had implemented the interventions I had done with each child, but I had not purposely worked toward “pop out words” specifically. I love working with non-verbal children and this is a common occurrence, but why? How could I explain why Music Therapy was the common factor?
After considering some of the recent research I had done on child development, socialization, speech and music, I drew the conclusion that not therapy alone, not music alone, but Music Therapy was the common factor. There has recently been a surge of research being published on the neurology the brain with music and it’s effects on speech. I credit much of this recent attention to the publicized developments with Congresswoman Gabriell Giffords. But why not just music? After all most everyone has access to radio, mp3, ipods, or cd’s.
Of coarse, besides the obvious, unique training a certified Music Therapist receives on using the elements of music to influence, encourage, entrain and support, there is another very important factor for the reason for Music Therapy. That very big factor is RELATIONSHIP.
Music Therapists, especially when using music “as” therapy, connect first with music. They focus on a client’s response, whether it be vocal, instrumental or physical. Any response is supported in the same way in which it is elicited, by the music. There is give and take, back and forth reciprocal involvement, musical empathy being expressed, and energy in this process. Even if there is an enormous lack of receptive and/or expressive language, one feels recognized in the expression of empathy and support. The relationship supports the music, the music supports the relationship. To be recognized gives an individual a sense of self and aids in eliciting the attentiveness. This also explains the very importance of live music verses recorded music. Because the relationship uniquely begins with the music, a good Music Therapist’s paperwork should allow another Music Therapist to take over and continue the growth that has begun without starting therapy all over.

There are definite musical qualities that relax, connect and uninhibit or aid in the reception in the brain of non-verbal clients. Trained Music Therapists should have the tools to work with. However it is the unique quality of the therapeutic relationship that factors in here also. As Hans Christians Anderson’s described: “Where words fail, music speaks.”

For more information on music and speech you can visit the American Music Therapy Association at www. musictherapy.org

One Comment

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