What is Music Therapy Exactly?

Music TherapyHeather McMullen
I’ve always had a fascination with the psychology of music. I was born into music as the child of a musical family. In high school, I was inspired to explore psychology through my own life experiences. One of the biggest questions I wanted to be able to answer was “why do we listen to sad music when we are sad? Why not happy music to make us happy?”
My music therapy work answered that for me. At our core, we want to be heard, to be understood, to feel connected and met where we are. That is what we call the iso principle in music therapy and it’s a universal, nonverbal need and understanding. And that’s why I keep doing music therapy to help others connect when they feel so disconnected.
Today as music therapist I to help my clients build new skills to bring joy and relief into their lives. People with autism and other neurodiversities often benefit from music therapy. They experience the world in different ways that can sometimes be scary, overwhelming, frustrating and isolating. For example, sometimes individuals with autism will experience depression, suffer from social isolation, and low self-esteem. Through our music therapy groups here at CCM, we work together with different methods of music therapy to help build social skills and emotion regulation skills that will ease anxiety, depression and isolation.
Music therapists involve children in singing, listening, moving, playing, and songwriting. People often learn better through music. Music therapists work on developing a child’s self-awareness, confidence, readiness skills, coping skills, and social behavior and may also provide pain management techniques. They explore which styles of music, techniques, and instruments are most effective or motivating for each individual child and expand upon the child’s natural, spontaneous play in order to address areas of need. Research results and clinical experiences show that many people respond better to music therapy than other forms of psychological treatment.
One of the best things music therapy can support is self-regulation. One of the biggest successes is in seeing a client in crisis, raging and angry, be able to hit a drum in anger. They express loud, chaotic noise. And with gentle guidance and support with the therapist they are able to gradually calm themselves down to a regulated pattern. Their breathing slows down, their heart rate slows, and they regain control on their own.
Through small and individual groups we work with clients to calm the sensory system and make way for building connections and relationships, self-esteem and strength, and skills to overcome the difficulties. If you are interested in learning more about music therapy please contact me at [email protected] for an evaluation.

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