What is Music Therapy anyway? I know you go to physical therapy to help your weak muscles and joints. I know you go to speech therapy to work with language. But what is “Music” Therapy for?
While working with a particular individual this week, I realized the importance of being “musical” in the way we communicate. That is not to say “musically trained” but rather, emotionally responsive, aesthetic, and our humanity when we share.
If that seems confusing, let’s consider this; that only 7% of our communication involves language. The other 93% has to do with emotion portrayed through our body and voice. This is the means by which we express or relate. This is our musical being.
No matter how, why, what or who we are relating to, communication is happening in some manner. The conveying of our thoughts, desires, and dislikes comes through our emotional part of our responses. That 93% is the musical part—the dynamic, affective elements of communication. These elements convey our joy, sadness, understanding, impatience, and compassion.
Music therapy works well because these elements are expressed in our musicality. This is especially evident in working with non-verbal individuals and individuals where more typical treatments are just not working. We can communicate in “being in the music” with a nonverbal individual. We can meet them where they are at. Even when they are withdrawn, we can meet them where they are at in the music. Music Therapists do this by relating through the trained use of utilizing the elements of music to entice the sensory, the motor, the cognitive, the emotional, the expressive, or receptive parts of an individual. This is done in an organic, non-chemically-based manner. In other words, in the human or musical, emotional relating.
When the emotions from trauma get stored in our bodies’ autonomic nervous system, the part not reachable by conscious thought, music can go there. Music can go directly there without the use of chemicals without touching the terrifying memories of the past. Music can build safe circumstances and atmosphere that relax a trauma body response.
While anyone can access music as an assist, only Board Certified Music Therapists are trained in utilizing music elements. Board Certified Music Therapists are trained to utilize those elements to help clients relate where growth is possible. Music Therapists who work relationally, look at the individual. They can then utilize the elements of music to help that individual to be available to relate. In this manner of working, the client is their own agent of change. They can choose for themself. We construct the “best possible circumstances” for relating. This typically involves observing how an individual responds to the music or environment through their behavior. As relating becomes easier in the best possible circumstances, the therapist will slowly stretch those circumstances in a non-threatening manner. The client will not be able to go into a world that presents the “best possible circumstances” for them. It is essential, then, that the individual can go into less than “best possible” and continue to be able to grow and relate healthily.
If this piques your interest, watch for next week’s post, which talks more about “musical relating” case examples. If you have more specific questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment, email, or call out clinic.
Back Mountain Music Therapy, The Heyward Rooms
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