Music Therapy

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by Ursula Toner

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals.  It is an established health profession, carried out by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

Music Therapy is used to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals (discussed below). After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music.  Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients' abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings. (AMTA, 2015)

Physical needs:

Music therapy can contribute to developing, maintaining and/or restoring physical functioning. Music therapy techniques can be used to: · Motivate movements or structure exercises which are prescribed in physical rehabilitation · Provide a distraction from the pain discomfort and anxiety often associated with some physical disabilities · Facilitate relaxation · Achieve a variety of physical, emotional and social goals relevant to individual needs · Develop and maintain joint and muscle function, increase fine and gross motor skills, increase muscle strength, increase range of motion and improve cardiopulmonary and respiratory functioning · Foster independence, self-confidence and self-esteem · Motivate interaction with others (MTABC, 2015)  

Emotional needs:

Music therapy with children and adolescents with emotional disorders can successfully address a great variety of treatment goals. It provides a pleasurable, non-threatening environment where individuals can safely risk trying new experiences which can be transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy techniques can be used to: · Facilitate positive self-concept and improve self-esteem · Facilitate communication and self-expression · Improve group awareness, co-operation and interaction · Improve relationships · Facilitate relaxation (MTABC, 2015)

Cognitive needs:

Music is processed in multiple areas of the brain which, in turn, stimulates cognitive function, memory and the sensory system. Music therapy techniques can be used to: · Provide sensory and mental stimulation - people with learning disabilities learn better when several senses are activated during the process · Enhance learning, attention and memory skills through imitation and repetitive structure of the session · Improve mood; therefore increases learning and joint attention · Develop literacy through memorizing songs and rhymes · Facilitate the development of cognitive skills (e.g. cause and effect, conceptualising and symbolising)​​ · Improve structure and routine in daily life (MTI, 2015; Joyful Music Therapy, 2015) 


Music therapy can create communication methods helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. It can provide an outlet for emotional self-expression and opportunities for social interaction. Music therapy techniques can be used to: · Promote engagement and social interaction​​​​​​​​​​ with family and peers · Provide an additional means of communication ​​​​​​​​​​when cognitive or language abilities are limited · Enhance communication and social skills (e.g. eye contact, turn taking, listening) · Promote speech ​​​​​​​​​​through vocalisation, the use of images and songs with repetitive elements · Encourage participation and decrease feelings of social withdrawal, isolation and depression (MTI, 2015)

Who is suitable for Music Therapy?

Anyone with impairment or special needs, including: · Autism Spectrum Disorders · Down syndrome · Cerebral Palsy · Developmental Delays · Intellectual Disabilities · Learning Disorders · ADD / ADHD · Neurological Impairments · Physical Disabilities

Contact: Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust Ltd Registered Office Address: Unit 4 McKibbin House, Eastbank Road, Carryduff, Belfast BT8 8BD Tel: 028 90814417 Fax: 028 90812459 Email: [email protected] Web:  

References: American Music Therapy Association, 2015. What is Music Therapy? Available: [06/01/2015]. Joyful Music Therapy, 2015. Therapeutic Benefits. Available: [06/01/2015]. Music Therapy Association of British Colombia, 2015a. Children with Emotional Disorders. Available: [06/01/2015]. Music Therapy Association of British Colombia, 2015b. Physical Disabilities. [06/01/2015]. Music Therapy Ireland, 2015. Children and Adults with Special Needs. Available:!special-needs/ccdl. [06/01/2015].

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