(Adapted from a brochure by South African music therapist Helen Oosthuizen.)
Everyone can participate in music therapy. A person engaging in music therapy does not need to be a musician; even a severely disabled person can find ways of expressing and interacting through music therapy. In this manner a child with Cerebral Palsy who is unable to talk or walk may gain opportunities for self-expression and social interaction through creative vocalization.
Music therapy is a means of communication. Music therapy offers a non-verbal means of addressing and responding to a person’s communicative needs, even if their ability to communicate has been impaired. For example a stroke patient who has limited speech may be able to form a communicative relationship with the music therapist. This may occur through the client’s participation in instrumental and vocal improvisation (using open vowel sounds) while having his/her vocalizations reciprocated and acknowledged in in an affirming and creative manner.
Music therapy is an alternative and safe medium for expression. Music can convey and contain difficult or inaccessible emotions. In music therapy, clients may express and work through such emotions in a creative manner. For example a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome who might not be able to regulate his/her emotional outbursts may have the opportunity to contain and express his/her aggression and frustration through drumming.
Music therapy encourages play and creativity. By harnessing/tapping into their creativity and playfulness, clients explore their world and consider alternative ways of being and relating, which may lead to change. In this manner a child on the autistic spectrum who is usually withdrawn and struggles to connect socially with others may gain opportunities to playfully interact with others through musical games.
By engaging with Music Therapy, clients may experience themselves in enriched and expanded ways and deepening the scope of life experiences that they have at their disposal. As the fields of human development and optimal functioning are immensely broad and unique to each individual or group, the benefits of Music Therapy are closely linked to the specific client, their needs and life-context.