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There are no myths to music therapy. It's the real deal

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori Bowman Johnson

Tori, a freelance writer, has worked in production, talent management & branding since her agency role at Vivien’s Model Management in Melbourne in 2011. Tori has recently launched, The First Word; a conversational podcast for women, particularly those who juggle young children & paid work. Tori is also a very proud mum of two little boys.
Created on Apr 12, 2024 · 6 mins read
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"Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand" – Stevie Wonder.


Such a wonderful sentiment and one that holds so much truth. Music has a poignant way of changing a mood, lending sympathy to any moment, celebrating accomplishments and more simply – inviting people to feel great. Life feels better when the tunes are playing.

This week marks World Music Therapy Week, so what better time than now to explore the magic that comes from merging music with a researched method of healing; therapy. 

For those who are unsure, this kind of therapy involves individuals joining the company of qualified registered music therapists, and being invited to dance, sing, play percussion instruments, and just relax in spaces where melodies play. The intention of these activities are centred around unraveling and exploring the development potentials in children.

The benefits of music therapy are incredible and widely varied.

They include nourishing a child’s general development, inviting children to harness a sense of motivation, offering a sense of belonging, learning about structure and predictability, and how to host and manage day-to-day moods. Confidence building, social skills, language and communication, motor skills, and self-regulation are a few more cherries on top.

To further our understanding of music therapy and to help parents identify if their child could benefit from it, we’re honoured to have shared time with Lorna Berry, a Senior Program Manager at PlayMatters. 

PlayMatters is a wonderful Australian organisation that their work on the heart & science of play  … including music therapy! 

Can you tell us what music therapy is and where it originated from?


Lorna Berry: Music therapy is a research-based allied health profession in which music is used to actively support people as they aim to improve their health, functioning, and well-being. It can help people of all ages to manage their physical and mental health and enhance their quality of life. 

You don’t need to be musical to take part in or benefit from music therapy. Qualified music therapists plan and provide musical experiences for their clients. Each session is tailored to the needs and goals of the client. 

Interestingly, the earliest known reference to music therapy appeared in 1789 in an unsigned article in Columbian Magazine titled “Music Physically Considered”. But the profession formally began after World War I and II when community musicians were visiting veterans in hospitals, and it became obvious that specialised training could increase the purposeful use of music in this space.


What is the 'general' background or experience of a therapist in this particular space?


LB: Music therapists are as varied as our population is in Australia, with different RMTs (Registered Music Therapists) bringing different strengths to a variety of settings. Some of the things we have in common, though, are that we all have completed undergraduate studies in a related field and postgraduate studies in music therapy. Our Sing&Grow RMTs have all done additional training specific to the families we work with, and participate in ongoing learning as well.

Across our national Sing&Grow team we have a range of RMTs from new graduates who are being supported to grow in the profession, to experts who have been in the field for over 20 years. We’re all connected though, through our shared commitment to supporting families and communities.


What types of children do you find tend to benefit? Or how might a parent know if music therapy could help?


LB: Everyone has ups and downs in their lives, so everyone can benefit from music therapy at different times. 

Through Sing&Grow, we support families to help their children thrive, especially in the face of adversity. Music is such an engaging medium for connection, and it doesn’t require the use of language, which is why music therapy is accessible to everyone.

Is it important to find the ‘right fit’ music therapist?


LB: Yes, it’s important to find the ‘right fit’ between a client and their RMT. Change happens in the context of a trusting therapeutic relationship, so it’s important for clients to feel safe with their RMT.

If a child is prone to sensory processing hurdles and finds discomfort around changing sounds, tone and pitch, is music therapy appropriate here?


LB: Definitely. We can adapt what instruments are used, and how we use them to match a child’s sensory profile. If it’s an identified need for them to become more comfortable with certain sounds, we can also facilitate safe ways for these to be introduced. It’s all about being responsive to how a child feels in the moment.

For children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, can music therapy be appropriate and/or helpful?


LB: Yes, there is a wealth of evidence that music therapy is an appropriate intervention for children with Autism. 

For example, music can be used as a method of communication for non-verbal children, and it can be a safe way to experience a group activity for children who are building familiarity with social connection.

Is music therapy recognised by the NDIS?


LB: Yes. This has enabled music therapy to be a much more accessible intervention for people across the lifespan.

What’s your advice for parents concerned about music therapy because they don't have music skills themselves or the instruments?


LB: Again – you don’t need to know anything about music to enjoy and experience positive outcomes from engaging in music therapy. And often, people don’t realise how much music is a part of their lives, through the radio, movies etc –  there are so many ways we emotionally connect with music. And we can always find a way for someone to engage in music making, no matter their abilities or background.   

If a child resists the class after the first session, how might a parent help to encourage them to keep going and give it a shot?


LB: It happens – we’re not always as popular as we’d like to think!

It’s completely understandable that there are many reasons a child might not feel comfortable to come back into the room after their first experience. 

For example, the furniture might be in a different configuration, or they might remember the sounds being too loud. 

We always work with families by listening to what’s going on for them, and would give them ideas for how to help their child feel safe to come into the room. 

It could look many different ways depending on the needs of the child, but it could be that they try sitting outside the room and have morning tea while Sing&Grow is in progress. Then the following week doing the same, but giving the parent a shaker to offer the child. Then the week after that, having the RMT offer the shaker to the child.

Do you need to attend music therapy regularly? And what are the signs that the therapy is having a positive effect?


LB: Each child or family will make that decision along with their RMT based on their needs. But in many cases music therapy happens weekly or fortnightly to build upon the success of the previous session and maintain the therapeutic relationship. You can measure ‘success’ by assessing whether the goals, which would have been developed after an assessment process at the beginning, are being achieved.

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