By Wilma Bedford
Music therapy is the clinical use of music to promote emotional and cognitive wellbeing, physical health and social functioning.
From a medical point of view, music therapy is being looked at increasingly for treating various mental issues, and although it is still a fairly rare profession in our country, it requires severe and thorough academic and practical study and training.
What does a music therapist do? A music therapist not only aims to help people alleviate their painful memories or intense emotions, but also to alleviate physical pain and enhance mobility in people with disabilities. They assess emotional wellbeing, physical health, social health, communication ability and cognitive skills by observing responses to music. They design music therapy for individuals or groups by making use of musical improvisation, by letting clients and patients listen and react to music, by writing music or changing lyrics that reflect the patient’s state of mind.
Team player. You must be able to work together with other role-players such as psychiatrists, and physical, speech and occupational therapists to obtain the best outcomes for your client.
You have to be creative and a problem-solver who can think on his/her feet and can improvise, especially when working with children, to motivate them to achieve certain goals.
You must be adaptable and up to date with the newest teaching techniques.
You must be patient and have perseverance, especially if you work with children with learning disabilities such as autism, to understand how they experience the world.
Jy must possess a high level of musicality and be able to improvise and use music symbolically and to express emotions.
You have to have a high level of empathy to understand your clients’ needs and lead them to a positive outcome.
Who do you work with? From children to adults, from brain dysfunctions to physical disabilities, from people with acute to chronic pain, people with learning problems, brain damage, drug addiction, people old and young with mental health issues, as well as people with dementia such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Where do you work? Mainly in hospitals, rehabilitation centres, care units, schools and private practices.
You can work in hospitals in cooperation with anaesthetists, surgeons and therapists to calm a patient, alleviate depression, enhance mobility for rehabilitation. With the elderly in care units the goal is to promote emotional functioning and offer intellectual stimulation.
In psychiatric hospitals you endeavour to establish positive emotional outcomes and promote the handling of conflict and problem-solving.
How do you become a music therapist?
In South Africa music therapy is still a relatively new field, but if you want to work overseas, it would be advisable to find out beforehand what the requirements are you have to meet in your country of choice so as to register with specific professional societies or councils to be able to practise.
Currently the University of Pretoria offers a two-year post-graduate course. The entry requirement is an honours degree in music or psychiatry or social work. One to two years’ experience in a health, teaching or social work profession would be a recommendation. The MA study programme requires 1500 hours of work under supervision at a government psychiatric hospital. After successful completion of your degree you will be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and you will be able to practise legally.
How to relieve stress: In our rushed society we are more inclined to reach out to medication for stress relief, while the cheapest and most accessible solution is within our grasp, namely music.
Although you won’t utilise the services of a music therapist, you can use some of their techniques to alleviate your own stress as well as that of your loved ones.
Musical improvisation affords you the opportunity to make a sound with any musical instrument or any other article, for example pot lids, that will represent or imitate the person’s feelings. In this way memories, feelings and pent-up emotions are laid bare.
With active listening the aim is to change a state of mind. The person first listens to music that reflects his mood and feelings and then moves on to more positive and soothing music. The purpose here is to not always listen to the same music with the same rhythm and in so doing fall into a musical rut. It works like a detox and opens you up to a more constructive perspective on what is bothering you. Take note of your current state of mind, accept it and then move to a changed, positive and healing state of mind with the aid of music.
Write your own lyrics for a song. Take the structure, verses, chorus of something you know and write a similar song with your own thoughts and emotions. In this way you create an image of your own emotional condition and share your feelings in a manner that makes you less vulnerable than talking about it. You can also go a step further and write the choreography for a specific piece of music.
Play an instrument. Playing an instrument is akin to talking to a good friend and squashes negative thought, builds self-confidence and offers a challenge.
Try the thirteen-minute therapy. Research by the British Academy of Sound Therapy: BAST) has found that there is a specific dose of music to which a person should listen for therapy.
The best music for relaxation is to listen to music with a slow tempo, simple melody and no lyrics for thirteen minutes, while nine minutes of quick music and positive lyrics cheer people up and let them experience higher energy levels.
It has furthermore been found that thirteen minutes of music with a quick tempo promotes focus and music with lyrics with which people can identify can make them feel less overwhelmed and sad.
Music as Medicine – The Musical Recommended Daily Allowance
Music takes 13 minutes to ‘release sadness’ and 9 to make you happy, according to new study14 January 2022. Classic FM. https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/
Music’s Impact On Our Mental Health https://blog.meditopia.com/en/healing-power-of-music-how-does-music-affect-our-mental-health/