What is music therapy?

As the name suggests, music therapy (MT) is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to reach a client’s goals. Sessions are conducted by a professional who has completed a music therapy program. It has applications for a wide range of challenges including cognitive functioning, emotional development, social skills and communication skills.

To the child, music therapy feels like play. To the parent, it is a carefully orchestrated set of activities that uses music to help the child develop. The activities include singing, listening to music, moving to music, talking about music and creating music. Most people recognize the powerful effect that music can have on them; that power makes it an effective therapeutic tool when deliberately directed toward a child’s development.

For example, some children have difficulty with talking, and when they speak it is in a rush; it all comes out as one word and is indistinguishable. A music
therapist will get them to speak the syllables in time with the music; it is a very natural way for the child to master proper pacing of their speech.

Who can benefit from music therapy?

Music therapy can be useful for a wide range of situations because its fundamental strength is its ability to motivate and connect. Common applications include:

  • Helping the non-verbal child to find their way to speak
  • Capturing the attention, and motivating the child to act
  • Strengthening the fine motor skills of the child through tasks like strumming guitar strings or pushing piano keys

What role can parents play?

Parents can get actively involved in music therapy sessions. Parents often sing to their children and their involvement is very natural. Music therapists can show parents how to use music in a more functional way to achieve specific goals; however, there is normally no expectation of parents doing homework.

How does Morneau Shepell use music therapy?

There are four categories of MT programs at Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions:

  • CAMES Approach – CAMES stands for Communication, Academic, Motor, Emotional and Social. It is often used with a low functioning or hard to motivate child to work on as many abilities as possible. It is a generalized approach to achieving a variety of goals, not necessarily a quantified goal.
  • Music Therapy Approach – Like CAMES, the Music Therapy approach is aimed at helping kids improve communication, academic, motor, emotional and social skills. A specific goal or set of goals is set with a specific time frame (e.g., ensure that they make eye contact when you call their name).
  • Adapted Lesson – Here the goal is to learn an instrument, just as with any other growing child. The teaching is adapted to the child’s special challenges. Learning an instrument teaches a child focus and disciplined effort and they gain confidence from mastering a meaningful skill—not to mention playing simply for the love of music.
  • Group Sessions – Learning in a group can be a very effective means of achieving social goals like taking turns and listening to others. Playing music together is a natural setting for engendering cooperation between kids.

Morneau Shepell’s Children’s Support Solutions is family-centred and interdisciplinary. This means that we always start with the questions, “What will work for this child?” and “What is right for the family?” If music therapy is deemed to be useful, then the music therapist will propose a treatment plan.

However, we do not think solely in terms of music therapy; we always think about the mix of therapies that will help the child. In the Morneau Shepell model, the therapists are not just under one roof; they plan together, train together and work together on a client file. It is an integrated approach to helping the family.

How are therapists trained and certified?

In Ontario, the new College of Registered Psychotherapists regulates and certifies music therapists involved in psychotherapy. The Canadian Association for Music Therapy also provides MTs with an accreditation process, which is voluntary but it sets a national standard for the education and experience recommended for all MTs.

The most common training for a music therapist is a Bachelor of Music Therapy followed by 1000 hours of internship. This training, combined with a written case study, response to an ethical dilemma question and a report on their personal approach to music therapy, provides the basis for accreditation. Therapists may also have a Master of Music Therapy.

There are also a variety of certifications for particular techniques, such as the Bonny Method and Nordoff-Robbins.

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