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Making the Pitch for Music Therapy - November 2009

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Making the Pitch for Music Therapy

By: Katie Eshleman, Board Certified Music Therapist


Oliver Saks, the famed neurologist, describes music as the “profoundest non-chemical medication.” Katie Eshleman, the obscure music therapist, has the honor of witnessing music’s abundant rewards as a child with special needs transcends words and sings, as that same child discovers their unique and inherent rhythms. Together, the journey of music therapist and child serves to nourish, develop, and enrich both individuals while inspiring a continuing and deepening exploration of self and the world.

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.” Board certified music therapists utilize a myriad of musical techniques to address non-musical goals within the motoric, communicative, cognitive, affective, and social domains. Often times, many may embrace the notion that the effects of music defy explanation; however, that initial impression is not always accurate. In fact, the impact of music therapy is both observable and quantifiable. According to Suzanne Hanser, “music therapists work to remediate skills, change specific behaviors, improve existing conditions, or teach new skills through musical experiences (3).” However, at the heart of objectives, goal setting, and treatment lies the critical and central ideal of music therapy practice known as the iso-principle or “meeting the child” at their present functioning level each time they enter the music therapy session. A welcoming and nurturing musical environment coupled with success oriented activities provides a setting of acceptance and enjoyment where the attempt at new behaviors and skills appears to be less anxiety provoking for the child.

Within the treatment setting, music therapists practice both individually as well as in harmony with other pediatric therapists including, but not limited to, the occupational therapist, physical therapist, and speech-language pathologist. In accordance with the physical therapist, goals related to gross motor movement can be addressed quite effectively within the music therapy setting. Dancing, instrument playing, and movement to music all require both motor control as well as increased body awareness. In addition, playing musical instruments requires increased motor as well as perceptual motor abilities. Despite the child’s level of physical involvement, the music therapist and physical therapist can create and implement specific strategies targeting the child’s physical needs while emphasizing both strength and ability.

Finger dexterity, grasp, and hand eye coordination are just a sampling of the fine motor aspects involved in music therapy; therefore, the collaboration of an OT and music therapist can be ultimately beneficial for the child with special needs. The use of modified instruments as well as attention to sensory needs can reinforce the goals of the OT while simultaneously increasing the child’s sense of self and self efficacy.

Inherent in speech are the musical qualities of prosody, rhythm, and pitch; therefore, the collaboration of a speech-language pathologist and music therapist appears to go hand in hand. In addition, the use of music can provide the non-verbal child an avenue for self and creative expression that is critical in emotional development and self-esteem. According to Nordoff-Robbins, “music is also universal in its message, the context of its expression can encompass all heights and depths of human experience, all shades of feeling (15).”

A mom was asked about her son’s response to music therapy and her response was as follows: “Our son is not cured of his Autism, but he seems to stand a bit taller, make better eye contact, even interact with his peers a little more. We credit music therapy for our son’s willingness to take chances, try something new, learn, grow, and live successfully in today’s complex world.”

I am a music therapist. I am well trained, well-versed in my field, but above all believe in the ability of music to discover and un-cover the straights and abilities of a child with special needs while giving them the courage to traverse new paths of attempt and accomplishment. When their exists the combination of music and the therapeutic word, therein lies the infinite potential for growth and success for the child with special needs.

Works Cited

Hanser, Suzanne. (1999). The New Music Therapist’s Handbook. Boston: Berklee Press.
Nordoff, Paul & Robbins, Clive (1992). Therapy in Music for Handicapped Children. London: VictorGollancz Ltd.

This Month's Featured Author: Katie Eshleman

Our thanks to Katie for providing us with this article.

Katie has wanted to be a music therapist for as long as she can remember. She did not know the exact job description of a music therapist but she did know that music always found a way to the places in her heart and mind that were beyond the reach of mere words.

Katie a board certified music therapist and graduated from Drew University with a B.A. in music and went on to Drexel University where she received her Masters in music therapy in 2001. As a music therapist, she has worked primarily with children with special needs using musical techniques in the therapeutic setting to address goals including social interaction, coping mechanisms, language development, emotional and creative expression, but most importantly sense of self.

Katie is the creator of Sing Out: Music to enhance early childhood speech development. She is also the mom of three young music lovers.

Please support our contributing authors and visit Sing Out

Tags: November 2009 Newsletter Music Therapy SLP OT PT School Based Psychology Article