We all want to be heard and understood, we want to be able to express the depths of our feelings and live life to the fullest of our abilities. In music therapy this is possible. Music does not discriminate instead it has the capacity to uncover our potentials. The vast qualities of music itself can reach the broadest of emotions and stimulate the mind and body. Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Its clinical use spans a wide range of populations. Music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, & cognitive skills through specifically designed music interventions for individuals and groups based upon the client needs.
This article will focus on the benefits of music therapy utilized in an improvisational, relationship based model with individuals with Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Relating and Communicating at the Rebecca School. Music Therapy at Rebecca School focuses on building relationships through involvement in live, interactive music making experiences. A range of musical outlets, such as singing and instrument playing, are employed to help individuals to explore their creativity and sense of self. Within the emotionally supportive therapeutic musical relationship, the prime intent is to deepen avenues for relatedness, communication, and expression. In music therapy, the dynamics of the musical process are fostered not the outcome of a musical product. Therefore the musical experiences are co-created with the individuals to experience meaningful musical dialogues that are uniquely tailored to the individuals needs. A student does not need to have specific musical skills to benefit from music therapy.
The guiding principles of this music therapy approach are those of the DIR©/Floortime™ model created by Dr. Stanley Greenspan and Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy also know as Creative Music Therapy. Essential to this is the Nordoff-Robbins concept of the music child. It is the belief that there is an inborn musicality residing in every human being that can be activated in for personal growth and development. This self-actualizing potential is most effectively awakened through the use of improvisational music in which the individual’s innate creativity is used to overcome limited areas. In the DIR Model it is essential to follow the individual’s passions, their natural emotion and to honor all verbal and non-verbal offerings as intent to communicate. This concept is paralleled in Creative Music Therapy as an individual’s musical passions are utilized, how they respond to live music making as well as how they offer musical qualities in their direct and indirect actions. For instance a student enters the music room and begins humming as they carefully move around room in a dancelike fashion, the music therapist creates music in the moment to bring meaning to their actions, following the individual melodic vocal patterns and tempo. It is through this a musical relationship is built as therapist and individual connect; in this there is awareness and shared attention. Another individual enters the music room and sits at the drum set, playing exuberant and complex rhythmic patterns some that are reminiscent of a familiar rock song. The therapist creates music with him at first to support the rock rhythms by matching the rhythmic patterns, tempo, and dynamic’s. Then the therapist introduces new elements so that it can be a co-created experience focusing on taking another persons ideas therefore collaborating together.
Primarily in music therapy sessions the music therapist uses harmonic instruments such as the guitar or piano as well as their voice. In the session room the individuals have access to these as well as all kinds of percussion instruments including drums, cymbal, xylophone, tambourines and shakers. In this approach to music therapy the focus of music therapy is to develop and broaden the Functional Emotional Developmental Levels, as established in the DIR© model, through interactive music-making experiences. As described in the previous examples this is achieved through improvised and tailored music experiences designed to cultivate relatedness, engagement, a continuous flow of interaction, social problem solving, as well as the exploration and expression of emotion. In addition, opportunities can be set up to support and encourage creative thinking, initiation of ideas, and development of abstraction. It is important that in the Creative Music Therapy model that music is created with sensitivity and artistic mastery, utilizing all the elements of music, rhythm, melody, tempo, dynamics, timbre with full range of expression and variety of musical styles and use of authentic musical modes. In the interactive music making it is essential that the music has intent to meet the clinical demands of the sessions. How the individual is involved in the music making and how they are meeting their developmental potential is forefront.
“Yes I Can”
All of a sudden after about ten minutes of interactive music making with Casey she darts to the corner of the room and lay down on the floor completely hiding her face. The therapist responds in a playful melody, singing, “Casey come back and join me”. Casey responds by rhythmically tapping here feet “NO, NO, NO!” her feet accenting her vocal statement. The therapist playfully states, “YES, YES, YES!” This back and forth interaction continues for several exchanges. The therapist frames the musical dialogue to meet Casey’s communicative intent and natural emotion. In the meaningful musical dialogue Casey momentarily changed her persistent, “NO” to a “Yes”. Then she changed her phrase and sadly sang, “No we can’t.” The music changes to empathize with Casey and to meet the change in her emotion and melodic inflection in her voice and the therapist sings, “We Can’t?” “Yes we can”. Then another vocal dialogue began, as Casey sang, “No I can’t” and the therapist sang, “Yes we can”. The rhythmic stability of the phrase was supported by the drum, piano and energetic vocals. Casey’s music child emerged as she avidly played the rhythms on the drum and piano. Although she still sang the words, “No I can’t” it sounded as if she really didn’t mean them anymore. As the music began to develop and build in musical complexity and emotional connection the therapist sang with strength “YES, YOU CAN” and Casey shrugged her shoulder, shared a slight grin and sang “YES I CAN”! The therapist initiated the previous sung phrase “YES, YES, YES!” and Casey in turn sang, “YES, YES, YES”!
This session vignette just begins to illustrate how music breaks down barriers that allow developmental potential to be realized in music making. Creative Music therapy is interactive, improvisational and committed to nurturing the therapeutic and musical relationship. Music’s ability to help us communicate with our whole authentic self breaks down barriers of language and difficulties in relating and communicating. In musical relationship an individual diagnosed with neurodevelopmental disorders of relating and communicating, such as Autism is given the opportunity to reach their developmental potential.
Stacey Hensel MA, MT-BC, LCAT, NRMT. Stacey is board certified, Licensed and holds a certification in Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy. Since 1997 she has had the privilege of being a music therapist. She has extensive experience as a clinician, instructor and supervisor in music-centered psychotherapy based music therapy practice. She has had instrumental roles in developing two thriving music therapy programs. Stacey is also the founder of Innovative Music Therapy Services. In addition to clinical sessions she provides parent training in groups and on an individual basis focusing on using music and music qualities for sustain, fun and meaningful engagement. Please check out her website to find out more about all the services she offers. www.innovativemusictherapy.com