written by Shona Pottinger
When approached by this town is small to write up a little ditty about music therapy, I was excited and nervous at the same time. I get the question “What is music therapy?” all the time – yet still don’t feel I have a great answer for people.
Unfortunately for me, it is a profession that is difficult to explain with words or a written definition. It is much easier to explain when you witness it.
That being said, I will start with the old stand-by definition found on the Canadian Association of Music Therapy’s website:
“Music therapy is the skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to promote, maintain, and restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Music has nonverbal, creative, structural, and emotional qualities. These are used in the therapeutic relationship to facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development.”
Say what?? I know. You begin to get a vague idea about what it is in a verbal definition. Most people, after hearing my short form definition, say something along the lines of “Yeah, music does make you feel good!” or “That makes sense…music is great for everyone. But what do you actually do?”
Hopefully I can shed a little light by sharing why I chose this fairly unknown profession to start with. It happened when I was trying to decide where to go after high school. Initially, I wanted to be a veterinarian as I have a great love of animals and hate seeing them suffer. However, that idea was shot down very quickly once I realized just how much I disliked science and how I did not do well in those courses.
To make a longer story shorter, I felt that I somehow had to use my talent in music throughout my life. Having been taught music from the ripe age of 4, I had a strong bond of love and respect for all things musical. This led me to discover music therapy at the suggestion of my piano teacher. She had heard tidbits on the profession over the years, and knowing my caring and helpful personality, suggested I do a little research.
Wow. What a beautiful way to be able to help people! Not only do I use my creative art form of music in my work, but it actually helps people. Imagine.
My client base ranges from special needs (autism, cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, etc.) to dementia, depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, pregnant youth, and troubled youth. These are not the limits of music therapy. There are many other venues that music therapy can be used with, but these are the few that I currently work in.
With each client, what I do with music varies. The best I feel I can explain it to you is to use a specific example.
With dementia or Alzheimer’s patients, the need of music is great as music is apparently the final “language” humans tend to lose the ability of in the brain. Many patients become non-verbal as the disease progresses. However, I have come across clients that, although being non-verbal in daily conversation, will start to sing when a song they can still recall is presented during therapy. Pretty cool, eh? I cried the first time this happened.
I hope this sheds a light for you, the reader, on the small but growing field of music therapy. And why I do what I do. All because I am able to improve lives with music.