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What Happens In A Typical Music Therapy Session?

Music Therapy in the UK focuses primarily on the use of active, improvised music. Although some pre-composed music or even pre-recorded music may be used within music therapy sessions, the emphasis is always on creative music making and tapping into what individuals CAN do. In a way, there is no “typical” music therapy session, in that the sessions are as individual as the people who are participating in the process. A wide range of instruments are normally available, including percussive instruments (drums, cymbals, etc) and melodic instruments (piano, xylophone, etc). No previous musical experience in required for people in order to participate.

Sessions may take place in a group or on a one to one basis, depending on the needs of each individual concerned. Sessions normally last between 30 and 60 minutes. Since music is improvised during each session, audio or video recordings are normally made for analysis afterwards by the therapist.

How Can Music Therapy Help?

The starting point for any Music Therapy work depends on the needs and abilities of each person. Emotional, cognitive and developmental needs can be addressed through interactive music making within the security of a therapeutic relationship.

For people with communication disorders, music therapy can enhance expressive and interactive ability; for people isolated by illness or disability, it can provide a means of socialisation, sharing and developing community. Music Therapy can also facilitate a process of self-exploration.

Scientific studies have demonstrated that music has a physiological effect on the body (e.g. lowering blood pressure). It can alter the way we feel and move; it affects our mood and therefore how we think.

Music Therapy cannot cure an illness or disability, but it can provide strategies for helping a person to cope with their difficulties and for cultivating existing or latent abilities and strengths. In this sense, music therapy is often said to work with the part of a person that is well, rather than the part that is ill or disabled.

In circumstances where a direct correlation can be found between the progression of a condition and the way the sufferer related to it (e.g. in Alzheimer’s disease, or in chronic depression), the positive effects of music therapy on the person’s mental state therefore impact directly on the condition itself.

Why Is Music Therapy Effective?

People benefit from music therapy because responsiveness to music is universal and an inherent part of being human. The basic substance of music – tone and rhythm – are deeply embedded in human physiology and functioning. Our heartbeat and breathing, for example are rhythmic processes that go on continuously within us, while in speaking we use varying tone (e.g. becoming louder, quieter, higher or lower) for expressive purposes. We might say that human beings are put together in the way that music is put together. This is why it energises and appeals to us; we identify with music and it reaches our emotions.

Is Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy Different To Other Forms Of Music Therapy?

There are 5 universally acknowledged approaches to music therapy used around the world – Analytical, Behavioural, Benezon, Guided Imagery and Music, and Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy. Some aspects of all these approaches may be similar, however Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy is a distinct approach that is based on certain theoretical and practical ways or working. For example:

  • It is based on the belief that everyone can respond to music and that this natural response can be utilised for personal growth and development.
  • Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy creates music with people, not for them. Joint clinical improvisation makes up a huge part of our work, and is unique to each individual client and situation.
  • The belief that the music itself and all its elements can be therapeutic.

Each individual therapist will have different ways of working and place different emphasis on the elements that make up Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy. However the core beliefs regarding the power of spontaneous, organic musical experience is always evident.

Is There A Difference Between Music Therapy And Music For “Therapeutic” Purposes?

Yes. The term “music therapist” is a title protected by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), and all people who call themselves “music therapist” must have completed a university qualification, which is recognised as leading to registration with the HCPC. Music therapy is an Allied Health Profession and all practitioners must meet the high standards of training and professional skills set by the HCPC.

That is not to say that music therapists are the only people who use music for therapeutic purposes! There are many different ways in which the therapeutic qualities in music are utilised be people throughout the world to promote positive change – whether it is for relaxation, pain relief, comfort, etc. Music used for “therapeutic” purposes is usually (but not always) live acoustic music, played or sung to the person it is intended for, in order to promote holistic healing.

Do You Need To Be Musical Or Have Had Music Lessons To Be Involved In Music Therapy?

No. Everyone has a natural impulse to respond to, to be part of or to make music, no matter how ill or disabled that person is. Working with what people CAN do, at whatever level, is how music therapists bring about change.

Does Music Therapy Teach You Musical Skills?

This is not the main aim of Music Therapy, but development of musical skills can be an inevitable consequence of the work. Musical skills will not be taught directly, but may develop as clinical goals and needs are worked towards.

How Can I Get Music Therapy?

At each of our bases we operate an open referral system, which means that people can be referred by parents, doctors, schools and other professionals, or may refer themselves. Music therapy may also take place at or with an organisation; music therapy may be restricted to those who attend or live with music therapy in provided. See In your area for further information.

What Skills And Qualifications Do Music Therapists Have?

Music therapy training in the UK is at a Masters postgraduate level, and at present there are 8 training courses, 2 of which are Nordoff Robbins programmes. All applicants have to be highly skilled musicians, as learning practical, pertinent musical skills forms a key part of the training. A large emphasis is also placed on studying aspects of pathology and psychology. Music therapists need to be highly sensitive and understanding, and need to be able to respond spontaneously and flexibly.

What If There Are No Services Currently Available To Me In My Area?

Please contact the Head Therapist for your region as new services are being established all the time in response to local need.

If the person you wish to refer to music therapy currently attends an institution where you think a number of people might benefit from music therapy, it would be worth speaking to the head of that organisation to see whether he or she would be interested in initiating a collaboration with Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy in Scotland.

The British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) can also supply details of any other music therapy services that may be available in your area.

How Much Does Music Therapy Cost?

Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy in Scotland is a charity and we do not turn any individual away for lack of funds. A sliding fee scale operates so that people pay according to their means. However the more income we are able to generate, the more we will be able to extend our services.

For organisations interested in using the services of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy in Scotland different levels of collaboration are possible.

How Long Does Music Therapy Last?

Music therapy is normally offered on a weekly basis, and typically last between 30 and 60 minutes depending on the needs of the individual.

There is no set time length for a course of music therapy; again this is dependent on need. People normally attend for any length of time between a few months and several years.

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