Tune in to the benefits of music therapy

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Music therapy is a research-based allied health practice delivered by therapists to support people to improve their health and wellbeing. It can help people of all ages to manage their physical and mental health and enhance their quality of life.

Key points

  • Music therapists work with people of all ages to improve their health and wellbeing using techniques involving music
  • Benefits of music therapy can include improved communication, social skills, movement and mobility, regulation of mood and emotions and cognitive processes such as memory, attention, planning and problem-solving
  • Music therapy can be funded under the NDIS to help people with disability to achieve their goals, if it is considered a reasonable and necessary support

Registered Music Therapist Megan Dalmazzo, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) representative of the Australian Music Therapy Association (AMTA), says you don’t need to be musical to benefit from music therapy, and in this article she answers all your questions about how qualified music therapists plan and provide musical experiences which fit their clients.

Q: What age groups do music therapists work with?

A: Registered music therapists support people of any age, ability or background and work across the full age spectrum from newborn children through to older adults.

Some registered music therapists may focus their work on certain client groups (for example paediatrics or dementia care) and some music therapists may work across a number of sectors with clients of all ages and various goals.

Q: Where is music therapy usually delivered?

A: Music therapy can be delivered in lots of different settings including:

  • At a therapist’s practice
  • At a client’s home
  • At a school
  • In a hospital
  • In residential care
  • In the community
  • In a public space
  • Via telehealth

The location for therapy will vary depending on the music therapist and the needs and goals of the person with whom they are working.

It is important that the space is safe and comfortable for the person participating in music therapy, and that they can trust and connect with their therapist during the musical experiences.

For this reason, the music therapist will often talk with the client to determine the best location for therapy and any adjustments that may need to be made to the environment to ensure that it is the best space for helping clients to achieve their goals.

Q: Is music therapy generally an ongoing service or a once-off session?

A: This will vary depending on the music therapist and the needs and goals of the person with whom they are working.

For example, a music therapist working in a hospital setting may only see a patient once or twice during their hospital admission, whereas a music therapist working in private practice may see a client regularly over several years.

Music therapists complete an assessment when they begin working with a client. During this assessment, they will talk with the client and their support people about their goals for therapy and other factors which may affect the frequency of therapy (such as the amount of funding available).

From this assessment, a music therapy plan is created with recommendations about how often, and for how long, music therapy may be needed.

Some clients may only need to access music therapy a few times or complete a short intensive block of therapy, but clients who are working on a number of goals may need to access music therapy more frequently and for a longer period of time to achieve their goals.

Q: What activities do people with disability do during music therapy?

A: Some of the techniques and music-making methods which may be included in music therapy sessions include:

  • Singing
  • Writing songs
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Musical improvisation
  • Listening to live or recorded music
  • Using music technology (for example apps or music software), playing or performing music
  • Exercising or moving to music

These can be delivered in individual sessions or in group sessions. Often the music therapist will also provide resources and activities that can be done outside of the music therapy sessions.

The techniques used in a music therapy session are chosen to best meet a client’s individual goals and are informed by music therapy research which shows that music therapy can:

  • Improve movement and mobility
  • Help to regulate mood and emotions
  • Improve cognitive processes such as memory, attention, planning and problem-solving
  • Increase social interaction and social skills
  • Improve verbal and non-verbal communication

In addition to the activities used in a session, the therapeutic relationship between the client and the therapist is extremely important for positive outcomes.

Q: What should people with disability consider when looking for a music therapist?

A: It is important that a person looking for music therapy receives their service from a qualified and trained therapist.

Music therapy is provided by a Registered Music Therapist (RMT) who is registered with the Australian Music Therapy Association (AMTA), the peak body for music therapy in Australia. RMTs are bound by a code of ethics and professional standards.

They are not only skilled musicians, they are trained in understanding the effects music experiences can have on behaviours, feelings, thoughts and actions. The training and experience of a RMT is important for the delivery of a safe, ethical and quality service.

To be eligible to register with AMTA, a RMT needs to complete a certified university course in music therapy and maintain their skills through ongoing professional development.

Q: Is music therapy available to people on the NDIS?

A: Music therapy can be funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and participants can use funds from their capacity building budget to access music therapy. NDIS participants must ensure that the service is provided by a RMT and that music therapy will assist them to work towards their NDIS plan goals.

Music therapy can also be provided to people who do not have NDIS plans, however as music therapy is not currently funded under other funding schemes, such as Medicare or private health insurance, this may be a personal expense.

Q: Can people with disability benefit from other musical activities not run by registered therapists?

A: Participation in a range of music experiences in everyday life can bring benefits to a person’s health and wellbeing.

People with a disability who listen to music, attend concerts and music festivals, learn to play an instrument, sing in a choir or play in a band, may certainly experience several benefits associated with these activities such as improved mood, increased social interactions and friendships, and improvements in their physical and cognitive skills.

The distinction to make between these types of musical activities and participation in music therapy, is that music therapists intentionally use music to achieve better health and wellbeing outcomes, and have training, experience and research which informs their work.

To give an example, when a person sings in a choir the primary goal is usually to learn and perhaps perform a piece of choral music. A by-product of this may be that the person experiences improved mood and develops friendships with other members of the choir.

However, the primary goal of music therapy in this example is for a person to improve their ability to communicate with others, and the music therapist may therefore use singing (carefully chosen songs) as a specific method for improving breath control, learning to project the voice, and to practice certain speech sounds.

Further information can be found on the AMTA website.

You can also find a Registered Music Therapist in your area by searching the AMTA directory.

What other types of therapy would you like to learn about? Tell us in the comments below.

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