Encouraging, enabling and empowering individuals creatively through music.

Despite the term ‘music therapy’ being used loosely especially in the drumming community it is a recognised branch of Art Therapy. Music Therapy as a profession has gradually been established in South Africa over the past 7 years. A two year master’s degree is offered at the University of Pretoria. The course is recognized by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) with whom our music therapist (Neil Jourdan) is registered.

 What is Music Therapy? 

Music Therapy is the use of sounds and music within an evolving relationship between client and therapist to support and encourage physical, mental, social and emotional wellbeing.

Music Therapy: An Art Beyond Words by Leslie Bunt

 Music Therapy involves the use of musical experiences and the relationships that develop between therapist and client through music-making to encourage positive change in an individual or group. This is in order to improve the client's physical and socio - emotional functioning as well as to restore or maintain overall well-being.

 Music is a powerful means of communication and of emotional, self or group expression. By responding to the musical expressions of a client, a music therapist can discern something of how that client is in the world. As a musical relationship develops, the client may then be encouraged to explore new ways of communicating and expressing her/himself. This is achieved through carefully structured activities such as singing, listening, playing instruments, composition, moving to music, music and imagery exercises as well as talking about the music or experiences in sessions. In all instances the use of music is clinically informed.

Who do music therapists work with?

Music therapists work with a wide variety of people. Some examples include those with learning disabilities, the developmentally delayed, those who have been abused, individuals who suffer from mental illnesses, the mentally and physically handicapped, the elderly (including those suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia), the terminally ill, the traumatically brain injured, those who have suffered trauma as well as those persons who do not suffer from a clinical diagnosis.

Where do music therapists work?

Music therapists work in schools (mainstream or remedial education), hospitals, nursing facilities, treatment centers, hospices, group homes, prisons, community programs, as well as in private practice.

Does one have to be ‘musical’ or trained on a musical instrument to benefit from Music Therapy? 

One does not have to be trained or proficient on any specific instrument or need any music skills or abilities to participate in and benefit from Music Therapy. A music therapist is trained to work with the client’s music at whatever level it may be. A mere tap on a drum, shake of a shaker, body movement or slight vocalization is enough musical expression for a trained music therapist to work with. Some interest in playing or listening to music (any style) can be helpful.

What are some of the Music Therapy interventions which might be used in a session?

Since music therapists serve a wide variety of persons with many different types of needs, there is no such thing as a typical Music Therapy session. Music Therapy sessions are designed with a number of factors in mind, including the client’s physical health, communication abilities, cognitive skills, emotional well-being, and interests. Music therapists draw from an extensive array of musical activities, techniques and interventions. Some examples include:

·         Musical improvisation

·         Singing

·         Composition

·         Music listening

·         Movement to music

·         Performance

In some instances the musical activities may extend towards and include extra-musical elements such as talking, drama, art and story-telling.

What are some of the goals which music therapists might work towards? 

Music therapists work towards specific therapeutic goals and objectives. All programs are specifically designed for each individual. Therefore every client will have different goals which will be identified after an assessment period. Some examples of goals include:

bullet To improve communication and vocal skills
bullet To decrease inappropriate behaviour
bullet To improve academic and motor skills
bullet To increase attention span
bullet To strengthen social skills
bullet Pain management and stress reduction
bullet To enhance self-confidence
bullet To promote emotional expression

Music Therapy can also help individuals on their journey of self-growth and understanding. It is important to be aware that while a client may develop their musical skills during treatment, these skills are not the primary concern of the therapist. Rather it is the sense of accomplishment and/or mastery that the musical development might have which is of most importance.

 What are some of the benefits of Music Therapy?

 Music Therapy is FUN – Music Therapy encourages individuals to play. In a room full of instruments individuals can access their creativity and explore relationships, fantasy, possibilities and reality. This allows a client to develop confidence and independence.

Music is a 'safe' medium for expressing emotions – Individuals can use musical instruments to express emotions that they cannot or feel

 unable to express verbally or in other contexts. This encourages an individual to communicate and explore difficult emotions, while these

 explorations are contained in a therapeutic environment. This can offer a needed release for those struggling to cope with difficult experiences

 or trauma.


 Music Therapy works with what is offered – Music Therapy serves to increase and enhance what an individual can do. Individual

 expressions are given meaning and value. Those with severe disabilities can become ‘able’ in a music therapy session as the therapist can

 work with whatever is offered. This gives an individual a feeling of having control and power, and can increase self-esteem or confidence.


Music is a means of communicating and forming relationships with others – In Music Therapy, individuals are given the opportunity to be

 heard by others and need to learn to listen to the expressions of others. Music Therapy then offers a way in which individuals can

 communicate creatively and form meaningful relationships. This is helpful for those who find it difficult to build meaningful relationships due to

 physical disabilities or emotional struggles and can encourage individuals to deal with conflicts positively.


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