What is music therapy?
Music therapy is a psychological practice that uses music and sound to support people in various aspects of their lives. Through playing with sound, rhythm, melody, dynamics, lyrics and other aspects of music, the therapist and client address a wide range of issues.
No musical experience or knowledge is required.
Music therapy is evidence based and backed by science. In South Africa, music therapists must have a master’s degree and are registered with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
Is music therapy right for me?
Music therapy can be helpful to many people, regardless of their age, or physical and mental abilities. I have worked with babies, children with various conditions, including Down’s Syndrome and autism spectrum disorder, teenagers, adults and the elderly with dementia.
If you want to explore your creativity and self-expression, manage a mental illness or addiction, feel calmer in your day-to-day activities or regain physical ability after a stroke or accident, music therapy can support that. Contact me to chat about how music therapy might help you.
Do I need to be able to play music?
No musical skill or experience is needed for a person to gain from music therapy. The aim of a music therapy is to use music to address what the client needs in the moment, not to create something that sounds “nice” – although that can happen too.
What are the benefits of music therapy?
Music taps into many areas of the brain, and so the benefits of music therapy are vast. Physically, it can help people who are recovering from an accident or stroke regain the ability to speak or walk. Emotionally, people can learn to manage anxiety and depression, gain confidence and explore their identity and how they express themselves.
What instruments are used in a music therapy session?
In my practice, I have a wide range of percussion instruments, including hand-held drums and a drum kit. I also use guitars and piano, as well as singing. Group sessions may make use of rock band instruments including electric guitar and bass, drums, keyboards and software based instruments or computer music. I also use drumming circles and other group activities.
How does music support mental health?
We often use music to regulate our mood – we might play upbeat songs on the way to work to help motivate us, or a favourite song that brings up memories when we are sad. We use music to calm or relax us, to inspire us, to help babies sleep, to focus, to let off steam and so much more. Music is personal and some people find heavy rock music to be calming while others might listen to a solo piano for the same effect.
In music therapy we use many techniques to explore and support mental health. Anaylsing the lyrics and music of a song that is close to our hearts can help us learn a lot about ourselves, as can writing song lyrics. Singing, breathing and improvisation exercises can assist with self-confidence and creativity. Group work (I use drumming circles and rock bands and other strategies) can also help with confidence, socialisation and communication.
Can it help me manage anxiety?
Music therapy is highly effective in anxiety management for people of all ages, as it allows for the safe exploration of feelings, emotions and scenarios that might be triggering. The client and therapist work together to develop personalised techniques that can be used in day-to-day situations.
Do you offer online sessions?
I mostly do in-person sessions but have adapted some of the work I do to accommodate online sessions.
Is it like music lessons?
Music therapy is not the same as music lessons. There is an emphasis on free playing and exploration on instruments and as a client becomes used to the “musicking” they may pick up some skills on an instrument, but this is not the goal of music therapy.
Will I be OK if I have sensory sensitivity?
Music therapists are trained to deal with various sensitivities, including sensitivity to pitch and volume. We check in with the client and try to be constantly aware of any changes in mood or presentation.
The client is free to choose any instrument and to play it as loudly or softly as they want and as a therapist I need to be “tuned-in” to their musicking so that I can respond or accompany them appropriately. I also have earplugs and earmuffs on hand should the need arise.
What happens in group sessions?
There are many forms of group music therapy. I work with clients playing in a rock band format and facilitate drum circles. I also use techniques such as songwriting, singing, chanting, arts and crafts and other interventions.
Do you offer family sessions?
Yes. Just as a family might go for therapy together, they can do the same with music therapy.
It can be also helpful for a parent to participate in sessions with their baby or toddler and learn skills to continue the activities at home.
Will medical aid pay for it?
Most South African medical aids do cover music therapy. Please contact your medical aid directly to check if you can claim for music therapy sessions.
Do you work with other therapists?
In my practice I mostly work alone, but do consult with psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists and other health professionals when necessary. Some music therapists do work in medical settings and are part of a team.
Can you help me if I’m tone deaf?
People sometimes joke about how they are tone deaf, but the reality is that tone deafness is extremely rare. Most people can learn to sing or play an instrument with practice, and in my 30 years of teaching music I have yet to come across anybody who is truly tone deaf.
You can try this test to check for tone deafness. (This is not a medical assessment or diagnosis.)