What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is a psychological therapy which uses music as a tool to enable self-expression and communication. Music is a powerful medium which can affect us deeply. Music therapy can help in many clinical situations, particularly where communication is difficult due to illness, injury or disability or they are unable to make use of a verbal therapy due to emotional distress.

Music Therapy can help people of all ages and abilities. Clients do not require any previous musical skills or experience to benefit from music therapy. Within the sessions they are supported by the therapist to enter into an interactive process of music-making and to develop their own creativity. This interactive music is created by the client/s and therapist. Percussion and other instruments are used as a means of expression and the therapist uses musical and therapeutic skills to support and acknowledge the clients playing and to foster meaningful interaction.

Through this process aspects of the client’s life experience including areas of difficulty come to the fore and can be explored and worked with together.

Who is Music Therapy for?

Anyone has the potential to benefit from music therapy. It has been identified as particularly beneficial for people with chronic psychosis, especially those experiencing the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. It can also be of benefit to clients with disorders of mood and difficulties with affect regulation, such as depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. It can offer a way to explore experiences that may be difficult to put into words.

Why refer to music therapy?

There are many possible reasons for referral to music therapy, which include:

Social isolation:


  • The opportunity to use music and the musical instruments can motivate people to engage in sessions and enter into a therapeutic process
  • Interacting through music can be experienced as less threatening than verbal dialogue
  • People can engage in a level and pace that is comfortable with them
  • The reliability and regularity of sessions facilitates the gradual building of trust
  • Music therapy can encourage the development of social interaction skills such as awareness of others and making connections, sharing, negotiation, tolerance and listening.

Negative symptoms:


  • Music can stimulate, motivate and enliven
  • It can promote concentration and focus
  • Music can engage people at a very basic and fundamental level of interaction

Positive symptoms:


  • Music therapy can offer the opportunity to connect with a real, here and now experience
  • Working non-verbally creates an opportunity to bypass psychotic thought process

Emotional expression:


  • The opportunity is offered to express feelings concretely and ‘let off steam’ through playing the instruments
  • Music can help people to get back in touch with their own feelings and to find ways of exploring and recognising and exploring these
  • People can feel listened to and heard
  • Feelings can be expressed, supported and contained musically before they can be acknowledged verbally

Developing insight:


  • Links may begin to be made between thoughts, feelings and actions

What happens in a Music Therapy session?

Music therapy sessions can be held one-to-one or for a small group of clients. They are held in a private space for the confidential comfort of the clients so they may express themselves freely. There will be different instruments to play and singing is also encouraged. The variety of instruments provided are; tuned an un-tuned percussion, as well as a piano, guitar or ukulele and some music technology. Clients can also sit and listen if they wish or move to the music. Free improvised music is largely used however the therapist and clients could play some musical games or pre-composed music this will vary from client to client. Some conversation maybe encouraged so we could discuss our feelings.

The aims of music therapy are entirely therapeutic, rather than educational or recreational. The therapist aims to provide an environment in which improvised music is used as an interactive medium. The sessions do not teach individuals music or encourage them to play in any particular way. The therapist acts as a facilitator to enable individuals to use their environment as a space which makes self-expression, exploration, communication and interaction possible.

“(Music therapy) can make the difference between withdrawal and awareness, between isolation and interaction, between chronic pain and comfort — between demoralization and dignity.”

– Barbara Crowe (past president of the National Association for Music Therapy).

Thank you very much.

– Esther-Anna Bennett

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