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Music Therapy Q&A

By: Anne Case, Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor & Board-Certified Music Therapist


What is music therapy?

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music to work towards non-musical goals. Board-certified music therapists have undergone specialized training, via their educational degree, practicums/internship, and examination for certification, in order to offer music therapy. Music therapy can be found in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, private practices, prisons, and elderly care facilities.


Music therapists support people with a variety of goals, including coping with pain or stress, navigating life transitions, exploring emotions, enhancing wellness, and working through life challenges. This use of music often impacts people at a cognitive, emotional, physical, and sometimes spiritual level.


Is music therapy for me?

If you are curious about music therapy, then yes! Often, people who seek out music therapy want to connect more with their creativity or intuition, feel a sense of connection with music, or just enjoy and feel supported by music. Sometimes people have been to talk therapy and want to try something a little different.


Does PCCF offer music therapy?

Yes! Contact us to learn more.


Do I have to sing/play piano/etc.?

You will not be asked to do something that you are not comfortable doing. In support of your goals within therapy, you may be invited to play if you are interested. There are many ways to incorporate music into a session, including breathing, yawning, listening to music, drawing to music, guided imagery, relaxation with music, and more!  


Do I need any formal music training or skills to try this out?

No. You already have a relationship with music, with inherent musical impulses and experiential knowledge! We are musical beings. Most likely you’ve tapped your fingers, which creates a rhythm, and walked or moved in a steady beat or other rhythmic way. Even if you don’t sing in the shower, you’ve used vocal inflection while speaking to make a point! You probably have favorite songs to listen to, and a sense of your musical preferences (if not a strong dislike for a particular artist or genre).


What happens in a music therapy session?

Music therapy can look many different ways. This is because each person has different needs and goals, and there can be many ways to support someone to achieve a goal. For example, if you want to work on managing stress or anxiety, a therapist may guide a relaxation experience using recorded or live music, helping you to imagine and connect with the feelings of peace that you notice when you are in your favorite place in nature.


Music therapy can be considered as a type of experiential therapy, which is process-oriented. Activities may include the following: receptive (listening), recreative (participating in playing music/singing music that already exists, like your favorite song), composition (making up a song), or improvisation (making up music spontaneously). However, this won’t feel like music class! Improvisation can just be noodling on the guitar or piano to express an experience that is difficult to put words to. Sometimes it can be helpful to invite or practice a nonjudgmental approach when we do this.


What kind of music do you use?

It’s important to honor your cultural background and identity. A music therapist will ask you about your preferred music and may incorporate some of this music in sessions in some capacity. We also may suggest some music that we think may support your goals. We’ll often work together to identify this music. 


What’s unique about music therapy?

Music can speak when it’s hard to find the words. Music can light up the brain and foster neuroplasticity. Our bodies naturally respond to music and often fall into synch, or “entrain,” with the music, which can help us find our calm. Music can also help motivate us and trigger the release of dopamine, as well as serotonin. In music therapy, we can use the unique qualities of music to enhance your progress towards your goals.


What about talking?!

As a Registered Associate Professional Clinical Counselor and Board-Certified Music Therapist, I use my knowledge and experience of music therapy to support my counseling work. In some sessions we might not use music at all, and just talk. Music is always an invitation, if you and I feel it supports your therapeutic process and goals – and not a requirement.


Can you give an example?

If we are using mindfulness to explore a particular feeling or body sensation, instead of asking you to use only words, I may also invite you to represent that feeling or sensation by playing a few notes on an instrument. This is similar to how a therapist who uses art may ask you to draw an outline of a body and represent your body sensations with color.


I’m worried the sounds I make won’t be “musical.”

All sounds are welcome. Scratchy, smooth, whispery, clangy. We’re not looking for a perfect performance, or a performance at all. This is process, not product. Plus...sometimes we’ve been taught what is “musical” or not. Part of our growing and “un-learning” process is shining the light on what we’ve been told is musical or non-musical, what musical traditions that represents and what those center, and what expressive approaches feel more authentic, liberating, and honoring of a diversity of experiences and traditions. 


I’d like to learn more.

This is an invitation to tap into your child-like creativity and spark of inspiration, and experience therapy in new ways! If you’re curious, please do send us a message and ask about music therapy, & let’s meet in the music.


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