The ability to appreciate and respond to music is an inborn quality in human beings. Rarely is this ability affected by handicap, injury or illness, and it is not dependent on music training. For people who find verbal communication difficult, particularly those with mental illness or physical, learning or sensory disabilities, music therapy offers a safe, secure way of releasing feelings.
Fundamental to music therapy is the development of a relationship between the therapist and client, in which music becomes the basis for communication and a way of promoting change and growth. There are different approaches to the use of music in therapy, depending on the needs of the client as well as the preferred style of the therapist but they all involve playing, singing and listening, either in group or individual sessions. The therapist does not teach the client to sing or play an instrument, but encourages improvization with percussion and other accessible instruments as well as the voice in order to explore the world of sound and create a personal musical language. By responding musically, the therapist supports this process and encourages positive changes in behaviour and well-being.
Music therapists work with adults and children of all ages, in hospitals, special schools, day and community centres and in private practice. Involvement in creative music-making is particularly useful in psychological treatments for children with behavioural problems, language impairment and birth defects, since it promotes physical awareness and develops attention, concentration and memory. For people with emotional difficulties, music therapy allows the safe expression of otherwise repressed or ‘difficult’ feelings. By offering support and acceptance, the therapist can help the client work towards emotional release and self-acceptance. Increasingly, music therapy is being sought by people who do not have any specific difficulties but who would like to enhance their creativity and gain insight into themselves and their ways of relating to others .