Understanding the Process of Music Therapy

Learn about the process of music therapy and how it works.

Music therapy has come far in the world of medicine as an accepted form of therapy for patients. It is becoming more common to find certified music therapists and their specialized equipment, such as drums, guitars and recording devices, in hospital settings. As we’ve explained before, music therapists aid in recovery and education, for both children and adults, from the beginning of life all the way to the end. The specific needs of the individual, the music therapist determines the exact course of therapy each person receives. This article will discuss how music therapists use their knowledge, experience and wisdom to determine the right therapy program for each patient.

Music Therapy: Three Basic Steps

There are three basic steps to the music therapy process. While the main purpose of these steps are clear, how the music therapist performs each step is open, depending on the specific needs of each patient. Below outlines the structure of the music therapy process.

  1. Introduction to Music Therapy

The first step in determining the right direction for a music therapy program for children or teens is to meet with them. The initial meeting is crucial in deciding the direction the therapy will take. During this time, the music therapist may talk with and observe the child or teen to get an idea of their specific needs, interests and behaviors.

For example, a child recovering from a medical procedure will have different needs than a child with a developmental condition. Even if there are two children going through the same procedures they will have different therapy plans based on their personal interests, experiences, and care plans. For these reasons, meeting face to face with potential therapy patients is such an important first step in the process for a music therapist.

  1. Setting Goals

Once the therapist has a general idea of the specific needs and interests of the patient they then draft up a plan of action to assist the child and reduce the pain they are feeling in the best way possible. As MusicTherapy.org explains:

“Music therapists may coordinate programming with other professionals such as early intervention specialists, medical personnel, child life specialists, psychologists, occupational and physical therapists, speech or language pathologists, adapted physical education specialists, and art and dance or movement therapists.”

The goals the team decides on may be to reach specific physical milestones through the playing of instruments, or they can be developmental and cognitive objectives achieved through the process of listening and singing. A combination of instruments, singing and listening can also be used, depending on the needs of the child. At this point the music therapist will also decide if they will use one-on-one sessions, group sessions or a combination of the two. Another key part of this step is determining how often the therapist will need to meet with the child or teen in order to reach the desired results.

  1. Monitoring the Progress

As part of the music therapy process, the therapist continually monitors, charts and shares the progress of their patient. It is important they update the goals and objectives of the child’s progress, working with family and doctors along the way to ensure that they are on track to reach their medical needs. Sharing with parents allows them the opportunity to incorporate the therapist’s suggestions into the daily routines of the children or teens.

How the Various Types of Music Therapy Work

Learn about the process of music therapy and how it works.

From individual one-on-one settings to group sessions there are many ways music therapy can be integrated in to the life and care of children.

Music Therapy in One-on-One Settings

There are a few ways a music therapist can plan and execute one-on-one therapy sessions; the direction they decide to go is highly dependent on the specific needs, abilities and goals of the children.

  • At the Bedside: One of the reasons music therapy is so fantastic is that it can come directly to the child, even if they are in a hospital bed unable to get out. A preemie baby would benefit from soft lullabies sung to them in the NICU, as would a young child recovering from surgery or other medical procedure. If the child is strong enough and able to participate more actively, the music therapist can encourage the child to sing along with them or even try playing an instrument.
  • In the Studio: Some hospitals, such as the University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital, allow music therapist to have a small studio where patients can record their masterpieces. In a studio setting the patient can feel safe and empowered to express themselves through playing instruments, singing a piece they wrote or a combination of both. This self-expression can help them manage their feelings in a positive way while also gaining other health benefits, such as reducing stress and pain.
  • As an Outpatient: In an outpatient setting the music therapist meets with the patient on a scheduled basis to help achieve their medical goals. Although the child is under medical care they are not admitted into the hospital and go home after the session. The patient objectives can range from reaching a physical milestone to reaching an intellectual milestone.
  • In the Home: The music therapist may come to the home of the patient if they are unable to get to the therapist’s office. The benefit of a home-based session is that the child is comfortable in their surroundings. This can make them more open and receptive to the therapy techniques allowing for quicker progress.

Music Therapy in Group Settings

Inside the hospital and in other settings you can find group sessions for music therapy. During these sessions the music therapist leads the children or teens in songs and can offer drums, tambourines and other instruments matching individual abilities to play along.  This therapy style is great for increasing social interactions and creating a chance for everyone to express themselves through body movements, while also aiming to reach medical goals for each person involved.

Whether in a personal setting or as a group, the music therapist works toward reaching the goals of each patient they come in contact with.

Music Therapy in Daily Lives

Learning to play an instrument is a lifelong skill that be used to cope with difficult situations.

Learning to play an instrument is a lifelong skill that be used to cope with difficult situations.

The tools used and learned in music therapy can be powerful in the daily lives of youth outside of the therapy sessions and can be used lifelong. While working with therapists, teens and children learn coping techniques that will help them during difficult situations. Some of these techniques include playing an instrument to redirect their focus, writing a song about what they are feeling, or simply listening to a favorite song to help calm their anxiety. The beauty of these coping mechanisms is the adolescent is armed to handle different situations, even if they are not currently part of a music therapy program.

Parents and families can use music therapy techniques and lessons to assist their children in following directions, practicing their motor skills and helping their cognitive development between sessions. When a parent is able to participate in the advancement of their child’s care it helps them reach the desired goals and reinforce bonds. According to the American Music Therapy Association:

“ Families can learn to use music through meaningful play and nurturing experiences. Music therapy may serve as a positive outlet for interaction, providing fun activities that can include parents, siblings, and extended family. Often music therapy allows a family to see a child in a new light as the child’s strengths are manifested in the music therapy environment”

Depending on the needs of the child and the goals of the program they are in, a child can also get assistance in their schooling. If needed, the music therapist can be listed on a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to ensure they are getting an education meeting their specific needs and goals.

By incorporating the tools from music therapy into all aspects of a patient and their family’s lives and supplying them with the techniques to handle difficult situations, music therapists provide them with the opportunity to create a meaningful and fulfilling life.

From the first meeting onward, a music therapist’s job is to supply lifelong patient skills; their work is invaluable to the medical community. Music therapy is a vital part in the healing process and helps with the positive progression of a patient’s treatment. With the help of organizations like the Peterson Family Foundation, music therapy is able to reach more children and teens than ever before. If you would like to find out how you can help bring music therapy programs to hospitals nationwide, contact the Peterson Family Foundation today.

About the Peterson Family Foundation

The Peterson Family Foundation was founded in 2003 to enhance, restore and improve the quality of life for all human beings. Our primary mission is to seek out and support experts and institutions dedicated to enhancing and improving the lives of people dealing with illnesses requiring a stay at a medical institution by bringing music therapy to as many hospitals as possible. Learn more at our website or share your story with us.