I launched my company Ace Music Therapy less than eighteen months ago and now have clients in Essex, London, Hertfordshire and Northampton but while going around talking to people about our work I have discovered that some people have quite strange pre-conceived ideas about music therapy. Here are some of the comments I have come across:
1. 'It’s just for children with special needs.'
Music therapy certainly benefits children with special needs, as shown by the work of Nordoff Robbins around children with autism, but it works equally well for many other groups. It has a real impact on clients with mental health issues, patients in hospices, adults with dementia, children with attachment difficulties, and children who feel frustrated and unable to control their emotions or who really struggle at home or at school. It also works well for people who have experienced trauma and loss or feel rootless and dispossessed.
2. 'It’s just a bit of fun and a way of taking people out of themselves.'
It is not our job to “entertain people”. Instead we provide emotional regulation, stimulation, and help people to communicate on a different level. Music is the means to unlock barriers and help people to open up, process ideas and find a different way of responding. It is a highly skilled process. I personally can testify that music therapy can be emotionally demanding at times, and both the therapist and the client may find it challenging.
3. 'You have to be musical to take part in music therapy.'
This is just not true! That would be like sending somebody to physiotherapy because they enjoyed playing football. Music therapy helps with behaviour, concentration and attention, with shaping thoughts and regulating emotions. It is a treatment that heals and nurtures, rather than develops musical abilities. This is not to say that someone may develop a passion for music as a result of having music therapy, as this often happens.
I believe that one of the reasons why music therapy is so effective is that the music therapist puts the client in control.
4. 'I play music to old people and it unlocks their memory. That's music therapy.'
Music therapy is a very specific discipline and requires years of training. After studying for a degree in music in German I took a two year Masters and like all music therapists I am registered with the Health & Care Professions Council. This body also regulates occupational therapists, physiotherapists and paramedics, among others. We have a high level of training in child development, psychology and group dynamics to understand why people behave in the way that they do and learn the most effective ways to respond to them.
5. 'There is no evidence that music therapy works'
We know change has occurred when behaviour changes. I often see the children who are struggling with anxiety and won’t come into the room or they are so overexcited that they are unable to focus. Music therapy not only changes the mood but also helps them to become engaged, to be in the moment, to focus and concentrate. Teachers notice these differences after music therapy sessions and comment on them. Sometimes they are amazed when they hear a child singing, particularly a child who has previously been silent and they see signs of increased self-confidence. It can be an emotional moment when a child quite literally finds their own voice.
I believe that one of the reasons why music therapy is so effective is that the music therapist puts the client in control. For someone who needs high levels of care, who perhaps has little speech and finds it hard to communicate, who is being washed, changed and medicated by other people, music therapy is particularly powerful because it gives them back their individuality and their power to make thing happen.
Amelia Clapham runs Ace Music Therapy which currently operates in (see above changes) London, the south-east and Northampton. It is in the process of becoming a Community Interest Company, a not-for-profit.