Music therapy is a method of creative communication which takes place within a therapeutic relationship developed over a series of regular sessions. Students are encouraged to create their own music and the music therapist will then explore ways to support this music, either by playing along themselves or by listening and being a witness to the music making. Through working together in a safe environment, the creation of a place to explore and express feelings is nurtured. Making connections through music can have a positive impact on a student’s self-esteem, sense of identity and anxiety levels as well as their communication and social skills.
Music is essentially a social activity which involves communication, listening and sharing. A music therapist is trained to observe the underlying needs and behaviours of the client. Music therapy can provide a means for students to express their emotions as well as develop their self-confidence and self-awareness. This is equally true for students who are verbal and non-verbal. For our students who are non-verbal, music can allow them to explore their emotions that they may otherwise find difficult to express, which can often lead to feelings of frustration, anger and/or isolation. Students who are verbal may also find expressing themselves with words challenging and will find that talking about issues that may be on their mind creates further anxieties. Music can allow these students to use the instruments to explore and release their feelings in a way that is easier for them, and this can then allow the student to later reflect and talk about the thoughts and feelings contained in their music afterwards.
Sessions can take place with individual students or within a group. Usually, the group sessions will focus on social skills and supporting relationships where all members have aims and needs that match or compliment each other, whereas individual sessions are led predominantly by the student with a less rigid agenda of using musical activities. A level of confidentiality is maintained within the sessions whilst ensuring that any information that may indicate a safeguarding concern is shared with a designated safeguarding lead. A student does not need to be skilled at playing an instrument in any way to access music therapy.
Students are not taught how to play the instruments and the aim is not always to ‘have fun’, but to offer a supportive environment in which the student may have a positive experience. Sessions may involve loud and chaotic sounds, even shouting and screaming, as all sound is a form of communication. Having a contained and supportive space in which a student can be loud and expressive can mean that there is less need to be as loud in the classroom or other settings.
Neil is registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (AS02020) and is a member of the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT).