Music therapy is based on the principle that music is an interactive, non-verbal means of expression, and that everyone is able to enjoy and respond to music regardless of illness or disability. It provides a safe and supportive environment for people to express feelings and aspects of their personality through creating shared music with another person or people. It can be a very powerful experience bringing about change in how the individual relates to others.
There is no set formula for a music therapy session. A range of percussion instruments are provided, and individuals are invited to explore these instruments and their own voice to create their own sounds and music. Sometimes clients may need extra help to be able to relax and play, and a number of techniques may be helpful. A pre-composed song may be used and clients are encouraged to put their own words to it or play with it in a way that makes it theirs. The therapist may use vocal techniques to draw out a client's authentic voice, or connect them to feelings that might be suppressed. They may improvise music on a particular theme, or make up songs together about experiences the client has had or is having. Depending on the needs of the individual or group the therapist may use music, movement, precomposed or improvised songs, musical stories or soundtracks, vocal techniques or simple sound play. I also use a range of other creative modalities such as sand-play, drawing, puppetry and story-telling to engage, connect and motivate.
The music, songs and rhythms can give shape and form to emotions and interactions that may otherwise be unrecognisable, confusing or impossible to put into words. Music can provide a more direct link to a person's emotional world, bypassing language and cognition and providing an opportunity to express and work through issues.
Given a safe space and an unconditional invitation to communicate, it is amazing how rich an emotional world can be expressed by people who may in some cases have profound and far-reaching disabilities.