Most people today, for better or for worse, know what therapy is—either because they need it or because someone they know does. Few people think of therapy as being anything except talking to a therapist about one’s feelings and problems, which is called psychotherapy or “talking” therapy. Less common forms of therapy, such as art and play therapies, offer more engaged and less abstract ways to connect with the same problems. They use physical and visual tools, such as creating paintings in the case of art therapy (“What Is…?”), and using puppets to represent real life situation in the case of play therapy (“How Does…?”). Even lesser known than these therapies is music therapy, which uses music in several ways to achieve similar goals as art therapy, play therapy, or psychotherapy. It is not often heard about in the everyday world, making it at first seem much less professional or official than other forms of therapy. However, music therapy actually is a well-researched and effective form of therapy. Although music therapy is not yet widely known, it can be a more effective tool for those who need a more concrete way to connect with their emotions than standard "talking" therapy.
Every music therapist must have completed an accredited program for a Master’s degree in Music Therapy. Strategies used in music therapy include expressing emotions through playing a variety of instruments, uninterrupted listening sessions of music chosen by the patient, and combined listening and discussion sessions with music chosen by the therapist (“Music Therapy and…”). One might assume that music therapy is purely used for psychological and emotional problems, as many popular forms of therapy are. Surprisingly, though, music therapy can be used for physical and social problems as well. This therapy can be and is used with people of all ages, and on a huge variety of patients. Some examples of when music therapy is used and who it is used on are people with Alzheimer’s disease (elderly people), young children (as young as two or three years), and people diagnosed on the autism spectrum. In one type of music therapy session, the patient will use easy
The first acknowledgements of the value of “talking” psychotherapy were in the 1800s (Haggerty), and the first documented instance of music therapy was in 1789 (“History of…”). However, music had been thought of as potentially healing as early as the writings of Aristotle and Plato (“History of…”). Talking therapies are pretty much exclusively just what they sound like—talking to a trained professional about one’s problems (“Talking Therapies”). In contrast, music therapy incorporates both playing music and listening to music, as well as some discussion components. Talking therapies generally only work with cognitively developed/present people, eliminating both young children and elderly people with severe Alzheimer's disease or similar conditions. Music therapy, however, can be used in such a way so that it does not require completely developed or healthy minds, opening the range of possible patients greatly.
A more specific and concrete example of a group of people who can be helped with music therapy is people diagnosed on the autism spectrum. In 1995, three scientists tested the effectiveness of music therapy on an autistic three-year-old girl, and her interactions with her mother (Khetrapal 12.). At the end of the experiment, the little girl showed significant signs of improvement in several social areas, including eye contact with her mother. When they checked back with her after two years, the improvements had stayed with her. This sort of case is a combination of both a very young patient and a mentally and socially disabled patient, neither of which could have been helped much by talking therapy.
People who need a more concrete way to connect with their feelings and emotions need and deserve the same level of therapeutic attention as everyone else. Music therapy is one way to achieve social and mental goals with these sorts of patients that are important to their qualities of life. Most people, don’t go into a therapist’s office knowing how to perfectly express their thoughts and feelings. But everyone has a natural emotional response to music that can be a powerful way of connecting with unconscious thoughts and worries.
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"What Is Art Therapy?" ArtTherapy.org. American Art Therapy Association, 2013. Web. 6 Oct.2014. http://www.arttherapy.org/upload/whatisarttherapy.pdf.