Welcome to the "Music Therapy" page. This is where I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts and practical activities for those of you interested in music therapy. Through music therapy, I have learned and witnessed amazing things about the deep beauty of both people and music. Whether you're a practciing or aspiring music therapist , or if you're just curious - there should be something here for you!
I first started working doing music in special education settings in 1986, and have been practicing as a Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC) since 1991. I currently work both privately with individuals, and with groups at the LOTUS Project, Los Angeles for women and men with developmental disabilities who have survived trauma and abuse.
What is music therapy?
My answer is, simply put, that music therapy is doing therapy while using music as the medium.
What am I trying to accomplish in a music therapy session? Well, that depends on the client, and what their particular need or challenge is.
Example: The primary challenge for a person with autism is often their inability to form normal social relations with other people. So, with that person, I would start by having them form a relationship with me, the therapist. We can do that in a variety of ways: playing music together, writing songs, listening to music together, etc. The focus is on how we communicate with each other.
I have often seen a teacher or therapist working with a person with autism, trying to draw the person "out," to get them to come out of their "shell." This always reminds me of a person standing in front of a horse, facing it with the reins in hand, telling the horse to "Come on." The horse will just stand there, because you're in his way!
To me, a more effective approach is to enter the person's world alongside them, become a resident of that world, take them by the hand, and explore venturing into the outer world together. A trust must develop, and sometimes it develops over a long period of time - but this trust can make wonderful things happen. Doesn't this work with all of us?
Another example: I have worked with people in hospice who did not have long to live. With someone in this situation, life review is important - playing music that was important to them in their life. Also, the music therapist can play music to help relax or stimulate the person, depending on their needs. For example, if someone is breathing heavily, indicating that they are stressed, I would play music in the tempo of their breathing, then slowly slow down the tempo - and their breathing would follow. In this way, even a person who is only semi-conscious can be brought to a less agitated state.
In music therapy, the possibilities with each client and within each session are endless - which is one reason why I love doing music therapy - it's so creative! Whatever musical abilities you have, as a music therapist you can utilize them in the therapeutic process.
It's people that are important - not the music!
Sometimes a teacher or therapist can make the mistake of giving a goal more importance than the person who's sitting right before them. "Never make the information more important than the student" is one of my mottos.
There are several great things about using music as the therapeutic medium. First, everyone likes music. Second, music has a capacity to enable people to communicate in ways that would be otherwise impossible. For example, many people cannot speak - but they can feel, listen to, play, and appreciate music.
Music can be so many things - healing, stimulating, relaxing, inspiring ... the list goes on and on.
Everyone is capable of expressing him or herself through music!
One thing I've come to believe from my years of music therapy practice: The purest musical expression is not necessarily made by a well-trained musician - rather, it's made by a person holding an instrument that they've never played before. Every single thing they do with that instrument - how they hold it, touch it, what they say about it - all says something about them, and is an expression of him or herself.
On these Music Therapy pages, and onYoutube, I'll be posting videos that will demonstrate some of the activities that I have used in my music therapy practice - so keep posted!
The Iso-Principle: This is a concept that is applied in the practice of music therapy, but there are many examples of it that I'm sure you would recognize.
If someone is in an agitated state, and you'd like them to relax, you might think that playing relaxing music would do the trick. The reality is that it would likely create the opposite effect - it would agitate the person even further - primarily because it doesn't match the person's internal state. This principle was used to practical effect by convenience stores who didn't want people loitering outside, so they played Muzak outside, which drove the loiterers away. If they had played rock music,which would have more likely matched the internal state of the loiterers, it wouldn't have had the desired effect.
A music therapy example: A few years ago, I flew to visit (and play music for) my cousin who was in hospice battling the final stages of cancer. The whole family was in the room, and I had my guitar, which I was playing quietly. My cousin was lying on her bed with her eyes closed, and her breathing indicated that she was in some discomfort in somewhat of an agitated state.
I played the guitar to the rhythm of her breath - meeting her at her current state (hence the iso-principle) - then slowly, over a period of 10 or 15 minutes, slowed my playing down. As I did this, her breathing also slowed down, following the tempo of the music. This brought her to a more relaxed, desirable state.