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  • Writer's pictureniamh owens

8 common questions about Music Therapy and Music Education.

1. Are you a Music Therapist or a Music Teacher?

I work as both a Music Therapist and a Music Teacher, but they are very different. They require different skills, qualifications, and experience.

2. What is Music Therapy? 

Music Therapy is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic intervention held to the same standards of other therapeutic practices. The difference between music therapy and other psychotherapeutic interventions is that the music therapist integrates music alongside their psychotherapy training. Music Therapy offers a safe, non-judgemental, and confidential therapeutic space where the individual has the opportunity to build upon their personal-awareness, meet their best potential and explore their creativity and expression. They can work on key areas of personal development, sustainable change and growth through live music-making, verbal discussion and active listening.

3. Is listening to music on your own considered music therapy? 

Listening to music on your own is not the same as music therapy, however, people make this association for good reason, listening to music can have therapeutic benefits that we have all probably experienced at some point such as decreasing levels of stress, elevating your mood, and having a positive impact on your physical performance while listening.

4. What is the difference between music education and music therapy?

• A music teacher uses their musical knowledge and experience to teach and train others.

• A music therapist uses their musical knowledge and experience to support clients in working on key areas of personal development.

The primary difference is that the goals and aims are different. 

• Music Education: The primary goal is to acquire Knowledge and Skills.

• Music Therapy: The primary goal is Therapeutic.

Music Education 

• Musical Performance

• Musical Accuracy

• Develop musical skills

• Aural skills- listening and perception, comprehension

• Singing skills

• Notation reading

• Understanding of pitch, rhythm, dynamics, tempo.

• Learning songs

Music Therapy

• Personal and Peer awareness- increased awareness of ones own behaviours in relation to self and others.

• Communication skills – using vocal/verbal sounds and gesture.

• Social skills – eye contact, turn-taking, initiating and self- esteem

• Sensory skills – through touch, listening and levels of awareness

• Physical skills – fine and gross motor control and movement

• Cognitive skills – concentration and attention, imitation and sequencing

• Emotional skills – expression of feelings verbally and non-verbally

• Coping skills- Addressing difficult and complex emotional issues, and learning to cope and understand these.

Shared Aims 

Among these lists there are shared aims: Developed musical ear, musical Ability, personal/musical confidence, vocal expression, learning, and creativity. Demonstrating there is over lap and ‘shared aims’ but the focus will be very different.

5. Can a Music Teacher deliver Music Therapy sessions? 

In the UK the answer is a clear no as Music Therapy is regulated by the HCPC (Health Care and Professionals Council) and you need to be a licensed professional to practice. This ensures effective, ethical, safe, and best standards of practice. This is one the reasons I decided to study and work in London. Here, in order to deliver Music Therapy sessions a Music Therapist needs to complete a postgraduate course accredited by the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT), alongside 1 to 2 years' work experience gained in areas like mental health, education, special needs, or social services. The Music therapist is also trained and experienced within the field of psychoanalytic’s, diagnosis, attachment, human development, and research.

However, in some countries music therapy is still a new practice and in some cases is only at the developing stage. Therefore there may be no courses, regulation, or licensing in place. This means anyone can legally claim to be a music therapist without the relevant training completed. This is why it is so important to check the qualifications of a music therapist before hiring, and check if the professional is regulated. I have seen some fantastic, innovative, and evidence based work happening globally, unfortunately, in some countries such as my home country, Ireland. They are still awaiting professional recognition. Music Therapy Ireland states: ‘Music Therapy is forging its way towards statutory recognition in the Republic of Ireland. This will ensure that the protection and safeguarding of the public, in particular vulnerable people, will be achieved.’

6. What happens in a music therapy session?

Sessions will be an integration of music and psychotherapy. Each music therapy session will be different depending on the individual’s strengths, needs and abilities. Musical activities can include identification of musical preferences, song writing, drumming, singing/instrument improvisation, and tailored musical activities. Sessions may sometimes include more talking than music, or even just talking, depending on what the client is comfortable with.

7. Do I or my child need to be musical skilled to take part in a music therapy session? (And who is music therapy for?)

Many people are apprehensive about choosing music therapy due to the common assumption that they need to be musical skilled to participate. However, you do not need to be musically skilled, or have any previous playing experience to take part in a music therapy session, Anyone can participate in music no matter what the diagnosis or disability, and anyone can benefit from music therapy, even perfectly healthy individuals. Every human has the innate ability to interact and respond to music, this includes those with hearing impairments too as they can still feel the vibrations, rhythm and durations produced by the music throughout their body.

6. Which should I choose? Music Therapy or Music Lessons? 

It really depends on the goals and needs of the individual. You need to think carefully about whether the aim is to be therapeutic or educational. Which is the priority here? A common presumption to be cautious of is: ‘They love music so they will definitely love music therapy.’ Or ‘They love music so they will definitely love music lessons’. Although both of these statements are commonly true, that the individual is more likely to engage or enjoy either because of their current love for music. You should consider the following:

Music therapy sessions are not just a time to have fun and play music together. Although this can be a big aspect of music therapy, music is highly motivating for individuals, and can be a more immediate way of connecting with others and enjoying interactions, even without words!

However, it is important to remember that it is still a therapeutic intervention, requiring the individual to engage in the therapeutic process. Which can sometimes be difficult and take a lot of emotional and mental energy. Sometimes clients leave the sessions elated and chatting with others, and other times clients can be tired after sessions, as they have been working hard to address difficult and complex areas of development. This can actually be a sign a progress.

Music Lessons are also not just about having fun and playing music together. Although this is a big and important part of it. The student needs to be willing to engage in the learning process, and practice outside of lessons. It is important to note here, that students with additional needs and diagnosis can also participate in music lessons. Music Therapy is not the only option for them. Some music therapists also work as music teachers, so they are trained and experienced in adapting and tailoring learning approaches to varied needs. If you are unsure which one is right for you, approach a music teacher or a music therapist, tell them about yourself, or your child and ask them for their insight. The simple act of talking it through can help you clarify which direction you feel is best.

8. Why do Music Therapy sessions cost more than music lessons?

Music lesson costs are mainly based on the time it takes to deliver the lesson, as well as time taken for lesson planning, sourcing musical material, registration for exams and performances. The rate charged will also depend on the teachers qualifications and experience. This can vary widely from teacher to to teacher. E.g. A music teacher with no previous experience will have a much lower rate than a teacher who has years of teaching experience, further qualifications, and the ability to teach multiple levels.

Music Therapy Costs are based on the British Association of Music Therapists (BAMT) national pay scales for Music Therapists and also take into account associated costs. Each individual music therapy session is charged by the hour. For example, a 30 minute individual music therapy session, includes the 30 minutes allocated for appointment as well as an additional 30 minutes surrounding appointment time. This covers the preparation time prior to session; planning, preparing instruments, followed by time after session; writing clinical notes which contribute towards reviews and evaluations. This allows therapist to track progression of therapy and provide detailed assessments and reports. Included in the cost per session are the hidden costs which enable the session to take place. This includes professional indemnity insurance, professional fees, supervision, administration, utilities, rent, cost of instruments and equipment, recording and editing of sessions, additional time liaising with parents, carers and other professionals.

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