Palm Tree Clinic



Music therapy is an interpersonal process in which the therapist uses music and all of its facets-physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual-to help clients to improve or maintain their health. In some instances, the client’s needs are addressed directly through music; in others they are addressed through the relationships that develop between the client and therapist. 


Music therapy is used with individuals of all ages and with a variety of conditions, including: psychiatric disorders, medical problems, physical handicaps, sensory impairments, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, communication disorders, interpersonal problems, and aging. It is also used to: improve learning, build self-esteem, reduce stress, support physical exercise, and facilitate a host of other health-related activities. 


What makes music therapy different from every other form of therapy is its reliance on music. 

Thus, every session involves the client in a musical experience of some kind. The main ones are improvising, re-creating, composing, and listening to music. In those sessions which involve improvising, the client makes up his or her own music extemporaneously, singing or playing whatever arises in the moment. The client may improvise freely, responding spontaneously to the sounds as they emerge, or the client may improvise according to the specific musical directions given by the therapist. Often the client is asked to improvise sound portraits of feelings, events, persons, or situations that are being explored in therapy. The client may improvise with the therapist, with other clients, or alone, depending on the therapeutic objective.

In those sessions which involve re-creating music, the client sings or plays precomposed music. This kind of music experience may include: learning how to produce vocal or instrumental sounds, imitating musical phrases, learning to sing by rote, using musical notation, participating in sing-alongs, practicing, taking music lessons, performing a piece from memory, working out the musical interpretation of a composition, participating in a musical show or drama, and so forth. In those sessions which involve composing, the therapist helps the client to write songs, lyrics, or instrumental pieces, or to create any kind of musical product, such as music videos or audiotape programs. Usually the therapist simplifies the process by engaging the client in easier aspects of the task (e.g., generating a melody, or writing the lyrics of a song), and by taking responsibility for more technical aspects (e.g., harmonization, notation). 

In those sessions which involve listening, the client takes in and reacts to live or recorded music. The listening experience may focus on physical, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual aspects of the music, and the client may respond through activities such as: relaxation or meditation, structured or free movement, perceptual tasks, free-association, story-telling, imaging, reminiscing, drawing, and so forth.

The music used for such experiences may be live or recorded improvisations, performances or compositions by the client or therapist, or commercial recordings of music literature in various styles (e.g., classical, popular, rock, jazz, country, spiritual, new age).

In addition to these musical types of experiences, music therapists often engage clients in verbal discussions. Clients may be encouraged to talk about the music, their reactions to it, or any thoughts, images, or feelings that were evoked during the experience. Clients may also be encouraged to express themselves through the other arts, such as drawing, painting, dance, drama or poetry. Music therapy sessions for children often include various games or play activities which involve music. 


No, clients do not have to be musicians to participate in or benefit from music therapy. In fact, because most clients have not had previous musical training, music therapy sessions are always designed to take advantage of the innate tendencies of all human beings to make and appreciate music at their own developmental levels. 

Music therapists believe that all individuals, regardless of age or musical background, have a basic capacity for musical expression and appreciation. This basic capacity does not require the special talents or extensive training that highly accomplished musicians have, but rather stems from general learnings and achievements that occur during the normal process of human development. Put another way, the process of human development prepares everyone to be a music-maker and music-lover–at a basic, but not necessarily professional, level. This basic or normal capacity for music includes the potential for learning to: sing, play simple instruments, move to music, react to the elements of music, perceive relationships between sounds, remember music, image to music, and ascribe meaning to musical experience. 

Of course, in clinical situations, music therapists often encounter clients who have physical or mental impairments that interfere with these basic musical potentials. In fact, much can be learned about the nature of the client’s impairment by assessing which of the basic musical potentials are missing or inadequately developed. For example, a client with a communication disorder may be unable to: sing, articulate lyrics, reproduce rhythms or melodies, order sound sequences, or participate in a musical ensemble–depending upon the specific nature of the disorder. 

Care is always taken to adapt music therapy experiences to the capabilities of the client and to avoid anything that might cause harm or unnecessary pain of any kind. Music therapists also screen clients who may have adverse psychological or psychophysiological reactions to musical participation. Another important concern is the client’s preferences with regard to types of musical activities, style of music, and medium of expression.