Music therapy consists of making music for therapeutic purposes.
The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used music therapy extensively but it was during the Second World War when music therapy was used to help soldiers traumatized by the fighting, that musicians started being employed in hospitals. Today music therapy is well established. In the UK there are around 500 qualified music therapists, all of whom are required to be state registered with the Health Professions Council and some of whom are employed in the NHS. The therapy is used to treat psychological problems, pain, neurological disability and communication disorders.
The ability to appreciate music usually remains unimpaired by illness or injury and may be the only thing that can alleviate the pain brought on by physical or mental suffering. While music therapists are holistic in their approach to clients, they are also clinically directed and have specific aims and objectives.
Music therapists work in hospitals, special schools, day centers and prisons. They are employed by the NHS, the local education authority or social services department and may also have private practices. A music therapist often works as part of a team alongside other practitioners, such as speech therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and doctors.
Music therapy can be either active or passive.
An active music therapy session usually involves a patient or group of patients plays musical instruments and/or singing. The therapist takes an active part in such sessions by listening and responding by playing or singing. The aim of active music therapy is to help express emotions in non-verbal ways and to release tension so that you are able to deal more effectively with any problems you have. During a session, you are not taught how to play an instrument, but you are encouraged to use percussion and other musical instruments to create your own musical language and the therapist will usually improvise together with you. An active music session usually lasts about an hour. Passive music therapy involves playing music for people to listen to. It can, for example, reduce anxiety in people waiting for surgery or help people on intensive care, coronary care, and cancer units to relax. Its aim is to gradually improve mood, reducing anxiety and lifting depression.
For people who find verbal communication difficult and who may be isolated and withdrawn, music therapy can be enormously beneficial.
For someone whose difficulties are largely emotional, creating music can be a safe way to express and release all kinds of emotions. Research shows that music therapy is particularly beneficial for children and adults with physical and learning disabilities. Many studies have shown that music relaxes people and improves their mood. Recent studies have also shown that it can relieve the anxiety and fear that exacerbate pain.
The Association of Professional Music Therapists and the British Society for Music Therapy both have details of qualified music therapists who can be recognized by the letters RMTh (Registered Music Therapist) or SRMTh (State Registered Music Therapist) after their names. Music therapists have to be trained musicians and are required to undergo one of the UK’s recognized training courses. Prices vary depending on the individual practitioner.