What is Music Therapy and How Can it Help?

Noel Anderson, MMT, MT-BC

PEATC is proud to introduce our guest blogger, Noel Anderson, MMT, MT-BC.  Noel will also be hosting a webinar with PEATC on April 4, 2017, at 11 am. Registration for that event can be found here: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/397b9d8a276034cfdc2040ba88984b7b

What is Music Therapy and How Can it Help?

With a loud cry Julie, a non-verbal teen with autism, burst into the music therapy room. We headed straight to the piano and she began banging forcefully on the keys. I accompanied her in a very structured, rhythmic manner, adding little nuisances that matched her playing. This gave her a sense of grounding and also demonstrated empathy. Initially, I matched her quick rhythm, but then gently slowed. This helped meet Julie where she was, but also supported emotional regulation. As Julie cried, I consciously echoed her in singing a similar inflection. Our musical conversation again established a sense of empathy and understanding that I was there to listen. Within a few moments, she stopped crying and regained a calm disposition. We continued to play and “converse” on the piano as Julie’s affect grew brighter and brighter.

Through our playing, Julie, though non-verbal, expressed her feelings and was able to be heard. By imitating Julie’s playing, I was able to express empathy, while the steady rhythm helped ground Julie and allow her to regulate her emotions. This is music therapy.

Music therapy is an established health care profession that uses music to improve the well-being and health of individuals, young and old. A board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) may address social, emotional, cognitive, physical, or speech and language needs through music interventions.

Within the field of music therapy, there are specialized areas of study. One such concentration is Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT), which is defined as, “The therapeutic application of music to cognitive, sensory, and motor dysfunctions due to neurologic disease of the human nervous system” (Thaut, 2005). Within NMT there are currently 20 standardized therapeutic music interventions used to meet various neurological needs. Therapeutic Instrumental Music Performance, or TIMP, “Uses the playing of musical instruments to exercise and simulate functional movement patterns”. Instruments may be played non-traditionally, such as marching on tambourines placed on the floor. In this case, the client may be strengthening hip flexors and increasing range of motion. Musical Executive Function Training (MEFT) is another technique used within NMT. By the use of improvisation (spontaneous music making) and composition, executive functioning skills such as organization, problem-solving, decision-making, and reasoning are practiced. Through music therapy, functional gains are made and positive changes are achieved.

Anderson Music Therapy Services’ mission is to “facilitate positive change through music by supporting our clients, families, and community”. This is why we exist. Though we serve a wide range of persons, we specialize in working with individuals who have various developmental and neurological disabilities including; cerebral palsy, chromosomal abnormalities, intellectual disabilities, brain injury, and autism.

Consultations are offered free of charge to answer questions and discuss the benefits of music therapy.

Noel Anderson is a board certified music therapist, neurologic music therapist, certified music educator, and vocalist.

For more information about Anderson Music Therapy Services, visit www.amusictherapy.com

For more information about Music Therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association’s website, at http://www.musictherapy.org

Thaut, M.H. (2005). Rhythm, Music and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Application. New York, New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

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