Music Informed Therapy :)

So…4 months have passed since the start of my 2nd year in grad school, I decided to share a bit of my unique experience experimenting with music-informed therapy for my clinical practicum. That said, I’m so glad TFI faculties are so flexible and supportive of my work, not to mention my wonderful peers who were so willing to observe and give me constructive feedback. ❤ 🙂

It started around the spring of 2017, when I came crossed NYU’s music therapy website and decided to sign up for their summer music therapy workshop for non-music therapy folks. At first I knew absolutely nothing about music therapy and its clinical applications, as everyone else, I just thought it looked very interesting and fun to learn more about. As summer arrived, I finally got to NYU’s music therapy workshop and, to capture at the very least, was so fascinated and amazed by all the wonderful things music could affect clients! I got to witness musical work done on clients ranging from children on the spectrum to the elderlies suffering with amnesia. NYU music therapists and staffs at the Nordoff Robbins center were so talented and creative as they warmly demonstrated to us how improvisational music could be healing in groups and individual settings. Even I, as the therapist, was so intrigued and empowered by the work that they did!

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Improvisational music has been found to reduce anxiety/physical effects of stress, reduce depression in the elderly, as well as improve self-expression & communication plus many more 

As I got back home, I thought it would be a really fun and worthwhile attempt to try carrying that improvisational music concept into my own therapy work. The idea came to life when I remembered the client I was seeing (with a presenting problem of depression) at the moment told me a long time ago that he used to play the guitar. As I was ending the session, I asked him if he is interested in trying out improvisational music with me, stressing that we will be playing for therapeutic reasons. He was very open to the idea and we scheduled for our music therapy session right at the end.  

During our music therapy sessions together, I invited him to try playing his guitar using just 3 chords (from the 2-5-1 jazz chord progression) while I played along with my keyboard. The goal was for us to improvise melodies together with the 3 chords given, at the same time aiming to tune into the other through 1) imitating– basic technique of empathy through copying/repeating the other’s response in terms of sound, rhythm, interval, or even facial expression, 2) reflecting– expressing the same moods or feelings which have been presented by the other, 3) rhythmic grounding– by establishing a steady beat or rhythm, supporting the other’s improvisation, and 4) accompanying– via supporting the other player’s improvisation by giving accompaniment that consists of rhythm, melody, and chord progressions.

Aside from the music, I would also try to tune in to client’s emotions at that given moment, before session, and after playing. We were even able to tie some of the musical sounds to certain feelings/emotions (i.e., musical dissonance) and experimented with playing a certain style to see how that elicit certain mood changes. So far, the music therapy sessions have been going great- it’s so awesome to witness client starting off struggling to improvise, to now where he is able to comfortably improvise and even imitate my improvisation! We are now consistently playing twice per month trying to improvise off of different chord progressions for each session. 

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I have also started my second client who uses the garage band on iPad to play musical instrument (due to a medical condition). So far, we have experimented playing improvisational music in more of a “rock style” as client identified rock genre to be his most familiar and favorite music. The sessions are going great and we are hoping to eventually co-create a rock song with unique melodies together!

So yeah, I’m so grateful to be able to work with clients who identify music as their strengths. It’s a wonderful opportunity to be able to collaborate with these lovely people through a creative medium that both clients and I enjoy. My final goal is to work on how improvisational music could be incorporated in family and couple cases (I’m especially interested in couple). Such a blessing to see how unexpectedly well music could have such a healing impact on them! 🙂 

I know this is only the beginning, and I am excited to see what is to come in 2018~ happy new year everyone!

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Thank you so much for reading!


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