Harnessing the Power of Music: Exploring the Benefits of Music Therapy

By Salon Gold on February 5th, 2024

Few things in life speak to our souls quite like music does. With the ability to make us cry, laugh, dance, think deeply and so much more, music can have a huge impact on our emotions and wellbeing. And because of this power, the art form is increasingly being used as a type of therapy to treat various issues. 

But how does this work exactly? What is it about music that has such a profound impact on us, and in what ways is music therapy used to help people? Find out the answers to these questions and more about the benefits of music therapy below.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a therapeutic discipline that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. It is provided by trained and certified music therapists to help individuals achieve specific therapeutic goals, and can be applied in various healthcare settings. Here are some common approaches to music therapy:

  • Receptive music therapy: Clients listen to music selected by a therapist to elicit specific emotional responses, promote relaxation, or stimulate cognitive processes. Clients may reflect on their feelings or thoughts during and after listening.

  • Active music-making: Clients actively engaging with musical instruments, their voice, or other forms of music-making. This approach encourages self-expression, creativity, and communication.

  • Songwriting: This form of music therapy allows clients to express their thoughts, emotions, and experiences through songwriting.

  • Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT): NMT is a specialised branch of music therapy that focuses on using music to address neurological conditions, such as a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease. It incorporates principles of neuroscience and is designed to help with motor skills, speech, and cognitive rehabilitation.

  • GIM (Guided Imagery and Music): GIM is a psychodynamic approach to music therapy where clients listen to music while in a relaxed state and explore their thoughts, feelings, and memories.

  • Rhythmic entrainment: Rhythmic entrainment involves using rhythm and percussion instruments to help individuals regulate their physiological and emotional states. It can be beneficial for individuals with autism, anxiety, or mood disorders.

  • Group music therapy: Group music therapy sessions involve multiple participants and can promote social interaction, communication skills, and a sense of community.

What is music therapy used to treat?

Music therapy has been applied successfully to address various needs and conditions, including the following:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A child with ASD may engage in music therapy to improve social skills and communication. Through structured musical activities, music therapy for autism encourages the child to interact with peers, express emotions, and develop better non-verbal communication.

  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease: Music therapy for dementia can help individuals improve cognitive function by enabling them to reconnect with memories and emotions. Listening to familiar songs from their past can evoke memories and reduce agitation.

  • Stroke rehabilitation: Research has found that music therapy can help stroke survivors make emotional, cognitive and physical improvements. While researchers don’t yet fully understand how it happens, it posited that these improvements are down to the therapy’s ability to improve brain plasticity.

  • Trauma and PTSD: Music therapy can also be useful at treating trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, a military veteran suffering from PTSD may participate in group drumming sessions as part of their therapy. Rhythmic activities like this can help reduce stress, as well as provide a sense of community.

  • Speech and language delays: A child with speech and language delays may work with a music therapist to improve articulation and communication skills. Singing and vocal exercises can help improve phonological capacity and the children’s understanding of speech, as well as strengthen the muscles needed for speech.

  • Physical pain: Music therapy has been found to be an effective treatment for pain. For example, a patient undergoing cancer treatment may receive music therapy to distract them from their discomfort and create a more positive emotional state.

  • Substance addiction: Individuals in substance abuse recovery programs may use music therapy to explore emotions, develop coping strategies, and build a sense of self-identity beyond addiction. One study has found music therapy can reduce substance craving and improve motivation for change.

It’s important to note that individual outcomes can vary, and the effectiveness of music therapy depends on factors such as the client’s unique circumstances, goals, and the expertise of the music therapist.

How does music affect the brain?

By engaging various regions and neural pathways, music has a huge impact on the brain. Here is are some of the main ways in which music affects the brain:

  • Emotional responses: Music can evoke a wide range of emotions, from happiness and excitement to sadness and nostalgia. For example, listening to music with a fast tempo and major chords often results in joy and excitement.

  • Dopamine release: Listening to music can trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This is why music is often described as pleasurable and can create a sense of euphoria or “chills” in some listeners.

  • Memory enhancement: Music has the power to enhance memory recall. Certain songs or melodies can become strongly associated with specific memories, and hearing the music can bring back vivid recollections of events, people, or places.

  • Stress reduction: Listening to music has a calming effect on the brain, and can therefore reduce stress and anxiety. Slow-tempo, soothing music with minimal lyrics is particularly effective in promoting relaxation and reducing cortisol levels (a stress hormone).

  • Improved cognitive functions: It’s possible for music to improve cognitive functions such as attention, problem-solving, and creativity. For example, the “Mozart effect” suggests that listening to classical music may temporarily boost spatial-temporal reasoning skills.

  • Pain management: Listening to music can reduce the perception of pain and discomfort, possibly by distracting the brain and triggering the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

Why is music therapy important?

Music provides a universal language that transcends barriers of language and culture. This makes it an accessible form of therapy for individuals who may struggle with verbal communication due to developmental disorders, trauma, or other challenges. Meanwhile, group music therapy sessions promote social interaction, communication, and a sense of belonging. Participants can build relationships, improve social skills, and develop a support network.

Music therapy can also serve as a safe outlet for expressing and processing emotions. It helps individuals explore their feelings and offers opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery, reducing stress, promoting emotional well-being, and enhancing overall quality of life. This is particularly important for individuals facing chronic illnesses or those in hospice care.

Music therapy takes a holistic approach to healing, addressing the physical, emotional, and psychological aspects of an individual’s well-being. It considers the person as a whole, rather than focusing solely on one aspect of health. It can complement other therapeutic modalities, such as speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy, overall enhancing their effectiveness.

How can I find a music therapist?

In order to locate professionals who are trained and certified to provide effective music therapy, follow the steps below.

  1. Check the HCPC Register
    In the UK, music therapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practise legally. Visit the HCPC website and use its online search tool to verify if a music therapist is registered.
  2. Look for accreditation
    Seek music therapists who are members of professional organisations such as the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT). Membership of these organisations often requires meeting specific education and training standards.
  3. Consult online directories
    Resources like the BAMT directory or the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) directory can help you find registered and accredited music therapists in your area.
  4. Contact local healthcare facilities
    Hospitals, rehabilitation centres, and mental health clinics often employ music therapists. Contact these facilities to inquire about music therapy services and qualified practitioners.
  5. Research credentials and specialisations
    Look for music therapists who have specific training and experience related to the population or condition you or your loved one needs help with. Different therapists may specialise in different areas, such as autism, dementia, or mental health, for instance.
  6. Interview potential therapists
    Once you have a list of potential music therapists, schedule interviews or consultations with them. Ask about their qualifications, experience, treatment approaches, and how they tailor their therapy to individual needs.
  7. Check references
    Don’t hesitate to ask potential therapists for references from previous clients or healthcare professionals who have worked with them. This can provide insights into their effectiveness and professionalism.

How can I become a music therapist?

To become a music therapist in the UK, you’ll need to follow a specific educational and training path, as well as meet the requirements set by relevant regulatory bodies and professional associations. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to become a music therapist in the UK:

Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in music, psychology, or a related field
While a specific undergraduate degree in music therapy is not always required, it can be beneficial. Make sure your programme includes coursework in music theory, psychology, and human development.

Step 2: Undergo postgraduate training
Pursue a master’s degree in music therapy from a programme accredited by BAMT. This is essential for professional certification and registration.

Step 3: Receive clinical training and supervision
Complete a supervised clinical internship as part of your master’s programme. You’ll need to accumulate a specified number of supervised clinical hours to meet the requirements for certification and registration.

Step 4: Gain professional certification
Obtain certification from HCPC. To be eligible for this, you must have completed a HCPC-approved postgraduate training programme and meet their standards of proficiency. This certification is necessary to practise legally as a music therapist in the UK.

Step 5: Secure professional membership
Consider becoming a member of professional organisations such as the BAMT or the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy (NRMT) to access resources, networking opportunities, and professional development.

Step 6: Decide whether to be employed or self-employed
Look for job opportunities in healthcare facilities, schools, mental health clinics or other settings where music therapy services are needed, or consider establishing a private practice.

Step 7: Receive continuing education
Participate in ongoing professional development and continuing education to stay updated with best practices and research in the field of music therapy.

The specific requirements and pathways to becoming a music therapist may vary slightly depending on the programme and institution you choose for your master’s degree. Therefore, it’s advisable to research specific programme requirements and consult with academic advisors or professionals in the field to ensure you meet all the necessary qualifications and standards.

Get music therapy insurance today

We hope this guide has helped you better understand music therapy and its benefits. If you believe that you or a loved one could benefit from this type of treatment, then don’t hesitate to follow the tips outlined above for finding a music therapist. The same applies to those who believe that becoming a music therapist could be a worthwhile career path.

For individuals who practise music therapy, Salon Gold is here to help you make the most out of your career. While the profession is relatively low risk, accidents do happen, making insurance vital. This prevents you from paying out of your own pocket if compensation claims arise, as we the insurer will have you covered.
Our dedicated music therapy insurance package is tailored towards the precise needs of music therapists, and includes everything you need in this profession, including public liability, products liability and malpractice insurance. 

Get a quote today or contact us to learn more.

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