What is music psychotherapy?
Music psychotherapy (or, music therapy) is a type of creative arts therapy, alongside art therapy, dance movement therapy, and drama therapy. It is a specialized modality, provided by credentialed therapists who have completed a music therapy degree program.
As the name implies, music psychotherapy involves the use of evidence-based music interventions to improve social, psychological, emotional, and physical functioning and wellbeing. Music psychotherapy can be delivered in individual or group therapy across a range of health, education, social services or private practice settings.
Read on to learn more about music psychotherapy and to explore whether it’s a good fit for you.
What music psychotherapy can help with
Like other creative arts therapies, music psychotherapy has been used to help people of all ages with a range of challenges, including:
- Substance abuse
- Sleep issues
- Learning difficulties
- Developmental disorders
- Relationship issues
- Aging-related cognitive change
Music psychotherapy can help people express themselves and progress in ways not possible through traditional talking therapies. This is particularly helpful for those who:
- Have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, as may be the case for people with dementia or other cognitive concerns
- Have only limited improvement from talking therapies
- Are troubled by painful emotions and difficult experiences, such as trauma
The decision to participate in music psychotherapy also comes down to personal fit and therapy preference. Some people find that the creative and expressive style of therapy resonates with them more than other types of therapy.
Does music psychotherapy work?
A recent Cochrane review suggested that more research is required to explore the promising results that music psychotherapy shows as an additional treatment for mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety (2).
According to the American Music Therapy Association, the research supports its effectiveness in areas such as:
- Physical rehabilitation
- Facilitating movement
- Increasing people's motivation to engage in treatment
- Providing emotional support
- Providing an outlet for expression of emotions
How music psychotherapy works
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how music psychotherapy works because the practice is so diverse. What all practices have in common is the use of music interventions to help people work towards their therapeutic goals. The therapeutic relationship, which develops through musical interactions between the therapist and client, is also central to how music psychotherapy works.
Music psychotherapy uses musical means of expression and intervention, and does not rely on verbal communication skills. Using music, individuals can create their own language which enables them to express themselves and explore and connect with the world and others. It can also help to improve confidence, independence, self-awareness and awareness of others, concentration and attention. These abilities are strengthened and can be transferred to areas of life outside of therapy.
It’s important to note that you do not need any musical experience or ability to benefit from music psychotherapy.
Structure of music psychotherapy sessions
In the initial session, the music therapist assesses the client's specific needs. For example, music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the therapist considers which techniques might best meet those needs, and creates a unique treatment plan.
Subsequent sessions involve the use of various music psychotherapy interventions as described in the section, below. Therapy can take many forms depending on each person’s needs, skills, interests, and therapeutic goals. It can be delivered in either group or individual therapy settings.
Unlike some other therapy types, music psychotherapy does not follow a set protocol, meaning that you and your therapist can decide together on the frequency of sessions, and when the appropriate time to finish therapy is.
What happens in a typical music psychotherapy session?
What happens in music psychotherapy changes from session to session and according to individual needs. Typically, however, sessions involve the use of a wide range of instruments, styles, processes, and techniques, such as:
- Music improvisation
- Receptive music listening
- Lyric discussion
- Music and imagery
- Music performance
- Moving to music
- Creating music
- Learning through music
- Playing musical instruments (although the goal of therapy is not to learn to play instruments)
What to look for in a music therapist
There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a music therapist, including:
Qualifications: With so many different provider types available, it can be difficult to decide which type of mental health professional to see.
Look for a therapist who is certified in the practice of music therapy - a Board Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC). Therapists often include this information in their biography on their website or online profile. This ensures that your therapist has passed the national examination offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists and therefore completed the appropriate level of education to practice.
Personal fit: The trusting relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy. It’s important to work with someone you trust and feel understood by.
The best way to judge how you might feel about a therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. This also allows you to ask about their core energetics training, experience, and what therapy will be like. Try to speak to a few different therapists before deciding.
Find therapists specializing in music psychotherapy
Find therapists who specialize in music psychotherapy on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!
Sources and references
- (1) American Music Therapy Association website, https://www.musictherapy.org
- (2) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, "Music therapy for depression”. Accessed online February 2020 at https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004517.pub3/full
- British Association for Music Therapy website, https://www.bamt.org
- National Health Service UK, “Music therapy 'helps treat' depression”. Accessed online February 2020 at https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/music-therapy-helps-treat-depression/