Music Therapy for Life

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Survivors of intimate partner violence can experience long lasting effects.  Lorna E. Segall, Director of Music Therapy at University of Louisville, writes about how music therapy is showing promise with survivors of intimate partner violence.

What is Music Therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as, “The clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program” (AMTA, 2016). In other words: music therapists use music to treat non-musical goals. These goals could be related to the physical, spiritual, emotional, and psycho-social needs of an individual. Music therapists complete a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in music therapy from an AMTA approved university, complete a 6 month clinical internship, and take the Board Certification exam before they can practice as a clinician.

Who Receives Music Therapy?

In order to benefit from music therapy, a client needs only to like music. No musical skills or prior experience are required to receive music therapy. Music therapy sessions can take place in group and/or individual settings.
Music therapists utilize evidence-based research to design and implement music therapy interventions based on the specific needs of each client. The type of music used is determined by the patient’s preferences. Music therapists frequently serve as a member of an interdisciplinary treatment team.

Where do Music Therapists Work?

Music therapists can be found working with a variety of populations in facilities such as: hospitals, schools, prisons, hospice care, behavioral health centers, and individuals with special needs. A growing body of research is exploring how music therapy interventions can help those who have experienced intimate partner violence.
The impacts of intimate partner violence are physical and psychological. While the physical outcomes of abuse are observable and treatable, the emotional and psychological implications of abuse can be less obvious and require extended amounts of treatment time (York & Curtis, 2015). Often the most common areas of need relate increased levels of anxiety, decreased feelings of self-confidence, and depression (Teague, Hahna, & McKinney, 2006). Music therapy has demonstrated promising treatment outcomes in helping these resilient individuals cope, overcome, and carry on. Below are examples of how music therapy can aide in treating anxiety, self-confidence, and depression.
Music Assisted Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Anxiety Reduction

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique that tenses and relaxes each of the primary areas of the body from head to toe. It is a simple technique that can be practiced anywhere by anyone at any time. When paired with music, the results of PMR can be even more effective (Choi, 2010).
Music therapy is effective in reducing levels of anxiety through techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation paired with active music listening. Not only does it increase feelings of relaxation, but it also enhances quality of sleep. In collaboration with a music therapist, individuals can create their own PMR experience and utilize it in their own time for optimal benefit (Hamilton-Ruiz, 2005).

Songwriting for Self-Confidence

Composing an original song or re-writing lyrics to an existing song offers a meaningful opportunity for emotional expression and a creative outlet for therapeutically processing painful experiences and reinforcing positive ones. It allows for the communication of feelings when words do not suffice. The therapeutic value of songwriting is housed in the process and creation of the song. Often times, these songs can be continually used by the writer to reinforce inspiration, provide comfort, or offer support to the individual who created them.
When shared in a group setting, song-writing can create a sense of community and encouragement among group members. These shared experiences are important in the healing process. Some may choose to write a song about their own experience or to write a song for someone else (a child, for example) to convey a message.
Lyric Analysis for Emotional Processing
Lyric analysis is the use of an existing song to facilitate therapeutic discussion. The music used can be either recorded or live. The topics used for lyric analysis are unlimited and could include topics about relationships, grief, or coping skills, for example.
Guided therapeutic discussion with lyric analysis, particularly within a group setting, can increase coping skills, explore alternate ways of addressing future challenges, build confidence, and strengthen an individual’s feelings of self-efficacy. These therapeutically driven conversations can be powerful as they enhance feelings of community, create empowerment through shared experiences, and the building of coping skills.

Active Music Making for Self-confidence

Active music making opportunities involve group instrument play, performing in a band, or singing in a choir. This multi-layered activity of music making engages numerous parts of the brain impacting not only the neurological, but also the physiological well-being of an individual. Active music making influences the social nature of human beings and can elevate feelings of happiness, belonging, and mood. Creating these sensations in the body inspires determination, perseverance, and joy!

References and Additional Readings

American Music Therapy Association (2019). What is music therapy? Retrieved from

Choi, YK (2010). The effect of music and progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety, fatigue, and quality of life in family caregivers of hospice patients. Journal of Music Therapy, 47(1), 53-69.
Hamilton-Ruiz, E. (2005). Effects of music therapy on the anxiety levels of sleep patterns of abused women in shelters. Journal of Music Therapy, 42(2), 140-158.
Teague, A.K., Hahna, N.D., and McKinney, C.H. (2006). Group music therapy with women who have experienced intimate partner violence. Music Therapy Perspectives, 24, 80-86.