What is Music Therapy

Music therapy is a type of expressive arts therapy that uses music to improve and maintain the physical, psychological, and social well-being of individuals. Music therapists use music and its many facets-physical, emotional, mental, social, etc to help clients improve their health in cognitive, motor, emotional, communicative, social, sensory, and educational domains by using both active and receptive music experiences. Music has been used as a therapeutic tool for centuries and has been shown to affect many areas of the brain, including the regions involved in emotion, cognition, sensation, and movement.

What is Music Therapy helpful for?

Five factors contribute to the effects of music therapy (Koelsch, 2009).

Modulation of Attention

Music grabs our attention and distracts us from stimuli that may lead to negative experiences (such as worry, pain, anxiety and so on). This may also explain the anxiety and pain-reducing effects of listening to music during medical procedures.

Modulation of Emotion

Music therapy works through the modulation of emotion. Studies have shown that music can regulate the activity of brain regions that are involved in the initiation, generation, maintenance, termination, and modulation of emotions.

Modulation of Cognition

Music also modulates cognition. Music is related to memory processes (including the encoding, storage, and decoding of musical information and events related to musical experiences). It is also involved in the analysis of musical syntax and musical meaning.

Modulation of Behavior

Music therapy also works through modulating behavior. Music evokes and conditions behaviors such as the movement patterns involved in walking, speaking and grasping.

Modulation of Communication

Music is a means of communication. Therefore, music can play a significant role in relationships, as alluded to in the definition of music therapy.

● Musical interaction in music therapy, especially musical improvisation, serves as a non-verbal and pre-verbal language

● It allows people who are verbal to gain access to pre-verbal experiences

● It also gives non-verbal people the chance to communicate with others without words

● It allows all people to interact in a more emotional, relationship-oriented way than may be possible relying on verbal language

How can Music Therapy be Helpful for People with Autism?

One of the reasons that music has quickly become a tool used in autism therapy is that it can stimulate both hemispheres of our brain, rather than just one. This means that a therapist can use a song or instrument to support cognitive activity so that we can build self-awareness and improve relationships with others. Music encourages communicative behavior and can encourage interaction with others, which is something that autistic children have great difficulty with.

Our interpretation of music, both in lyrics and in sound can greatly assist in teaching us to communicate. For children with autism, this could mean learning a new word from a song, or a better understanding of how to act in a social situation based on the messages that a song is expressing. We know that autism can create barriers for children in social settings, but small groups of children listening to music together may feel confident and comfortable enough to comment or sing along with others.

Music therapy can give people who can’t easily communicate a way of communicating and interacting. Instead of using words to communicate, they can instead use a range of musical activities – singing, playing instruments, improvising, songwriting and listening to music. These activities are intended to promote communication and social skills like making eye contact and taking turns.

Therapists can also use musical activities to teach new skills. This happens by pairing new skills with their own musical cues. Once children have learned the skills, they no longer need the cues. The cues are gradually phased out until the skills happen by themselves.

For a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a music therapist might also write lyrics about specific behaviour – for example, turn-taking. The therapist sings the lyrics to the melody of a song the child knows well. The idea is that the child might be better able to focus on sung information than spoken information.

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