What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is the intentional and compassionate use of music by a board certified music therapist to bring about change and enhance quality of life. It is both the techniques and the therapeutic relationship that create healing and transform the lives of individuals with physical, emotional, cognitive, communicative, interpersonal, and/or spiritual needs. It is an evidence-based practice where music therapists design custom music experiences to help address specific goals. Live or recorded music may be used, and clients do not have to be trained musicians to participate in music therapy. A music therapist who is board certified holds the credentials MT-BC.

MT - ChildrenCommon goals that music therapists address with children include:

  • Enhancing sensory and cognitive stimulation
  • Providing pain and anxiety management
  • Promoting self-expression, communication and motor development.
  • Helping with mood regulation
  • Increasing attention span and motivation for completing tasks
  • Learning academic concepts through music
  • Practicing social skills and increasing frustration tolerance
  • Understanding and processing trauma
  • Promoting self-awareness and increasing self-esteem

Each child is unique and different, so each session and set of goals with be unique to the child and established by the therapist after conducting an assessment.

“The most common misunderstanding is that music therapy is just entertainment. Music therapy is a clinical specialty [and] have formal training not only in music but in psychology and in the assessment of psychological conditions. The difference in what a music therapist does and what a volunteer musician does is not in what the music sounds like but how it is selected and used. The music therapist carefully chooses music suited to each individual situation, [considering] cultural, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs. Music therapy is a two-way process, [in which the music therapist is] constantly responding and adjusting to the client’s responses. This is why tape recordings are no substitute for the human contact of the music therapist.” -Dr. C. Gourgey, MT-BC, LCAT

Here are a couple of Examples:

“Kay” is an eight year old girl diagnosed with Autism. She struggles to interact with others, pay attention in school, as well as verbally making her needs known. After looking over her IEP and talking with Kay’s teachers and parents, the music therapist set goals for Kay to verbalize her needs, increase her ability to interact with others, and increase the length of time Kay can focus on a task. By interacting with the therapist for 9 months in musical interventions, Kay began developing an ability to sing and interact with the therapist musically, stay on task through a whole song fully engaged by singing and playing shakers and became comfortable to communicate to the therapist what songs she would like to sing as well as telling the therapist when she needs a break to use the restroom. Kay’s family and teachers were amazed and encouraged by the growth they saw in Kay.

“Ben” is a ten year old boy who has lost his father. Ben’s teachers and mother notice a serious change in Ben since his father’s death including: withdrawal from others, low self-esteem, and signs of depression. Ben’s mother brings him to a music therapist. Through musical intervention such as songwriting Ben is able to express some feelings he has been keeping inside. He is able to play on different instruments with the therapist which gives him a sense of accomplishment and increases his self-esteem. Eventually Ben enters music therapy group with two other children who have lost their parents. Through musical interventions in a group setting, the children are able to relate and communicate with one another about their loss. Ben’s teachers and mother see Ben interact with peers and family members, take an interest in things like music and sports at school, and he is able to communicate when he is having a hard day of missing his dad.

About Nicole Gomez
Nicole is a Board-Certified Music Therapist and graduate from the University of the Incarnate Word with experience with special needs, mental health issues, medical development issues and geriatric care. She completed training at the Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy at New York University and enjoys researching innovative ideas and techniques to bring to her clients. She sees music as an expression and tool for healing and profoundly insightful in the steps for recovery with her clients. Using a holistic and integrative therapeutic approach, her music therapy sessions change according to her clients’ needs and progress to maximize their results.