The Power of Music Therapy
Music is a universal language. And a powerful tool to use to support your child’s development as well as your own self care practices as a parent.
Music is one of the only activities that stimulates the whole brain, and with the neurological benefits that is being found in the research, why music therapy is becoming a more known therapy worldwide.
So, what is music therapy then?
Music therapy is a research based allied health profession in which music is intentionally used to actively support people as they strive to improve their overall health, functioning and wellbeing (Australian Music Therapy Association, 2012).
Music therapy programs are tailored to meet each individual’s needs and goals across various domains such as cognitive functioning, speech and communication skills, social skills, physical functioning, emotional development, mental health/wellbeing, pain management, or to enhance quality of life.
Music therapy can help support people of all ages and abilities and can be implemented in many settings such as hospitals, schools, mental health facilities, aged care facilities, disability care facilities, community health programs, prison and detention centres, and within private practice.
Some specific benefits of music therapy as outlined in the research include:
– Reduce anxiety or stress
– Regulate moods and energy levels
– Improve verbal and non-verbal communication
– Improve physical speech function
– Increase independence
– Increase social interaction
– Improve gross and fine motor function and control
– Help regulate heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure
– Improve balance
– Increase core executive functions: self-awareness, inhibition, non-verbal and verbal working memory, emotional self-regulation, self-motivation, planning and problem solving
– Increase memory and attention
– Reduce pain perception by increasing the body’s production of natural pain killers
– Support faster recovery from medical procedures
Music therapists use a range of music therapy interventions and techniques to support the individual to reach their goals. Interventions may include:
– Singing or instrumental play (this may be used to work on various speech/communication, cognitive or motor goals)
– Songwriting (this may be used to support someone’s emotional development, mental health or communication goals)
– Listening to music either recorded or played by the music therapists (this may be used to either support an individual’s emotional regulation and facilitate relaxation, or alternatively to boost mood and motivation)
– Movement to music (this may be used to support sensory integration or physical functioning, e.g. balance or coordination)
For anyone wanting to use music in the home for themselves or with their children, here are some ways that music can support your family:
– Create relaxation playlists to use when you or your child needs to wind down or calm (also great to use as part of the nighttime routine). Try practicing taking slow deep breaths with your child along to some calming music to provide opportunities to learn self-regulation skills and help your child to maintain regulation. Using visual props like placing their favourite toy on their tummy and watching it rise and fall as they practice slow belly breaths can be effective for younger children;
– Create mood booster playlists and have a dance party to release any pent up energy (which can be great to support regulation) and provide opportunities for family connection – moving to music through different movements and actions like spinning, jumping, clapping and tapping different body parts can help with motor functioning, provide sensory input that helps to regulate and their nervous system, while teaching younger kids all about different body parts;
– Sing with or without recorded music – singing helps to calm the nervous system and releases oxytocin (our love hormone) which helps to boost feelings of connectedness and other feel-good hormones;
– Play instruments or drums together while you sing or along to music that has a strong beat – this can support your children’s motor development as well as sensory development and drumming, in particular, can be incredibly beneficial to support emotional regulation due to it being a rhythm based instrument, providing that much needed predictability that the brain thrives off. If you don’t have any instruments, you can make your own. Rice and plastic waterbottles create great shakers and plastic tubs and wooden spoons are a fantastic drum alternative;
– Use music to support routines and transitions – daily tasks such as brushing teeth or getting dressed, as well as transitions such as packing away toys, leaving the house or bedtime, can often be a time where power struggles between parent and child occur leaving everyone stressed and cooperation at an all time low. By singing songs that relate to the task or transition (either making up your own or jump over to YouTube or my IG page for some inspiration), you are adding playfulness and connection in these moments and helping your child anticipate what the expectation is in that moment, increasing chances of cooperation and following through with the task at hand;
– Play or sing songs to support learning opportunities – there are so many songs that can help children learn various concepts such as the alphabet, numbers, colours, days of the week, seasons, timetables (the list goes on) and also support speech and language. Music activates memory centres of the brain and helps it to retain and recall information with greater ease (how else would we be able to remember 26 individual pieces of information at 4 years of age if it weren’t for the Alphabet Song);
– Play music to create a more positive auditory home environment – that’s right, turning off the TV/device and other unnecessary noise and replacing it with music can help to reduce overstimulation which in turn, can help to reduce meltdowns and create a more calm, relaxed household for all!
Monique Bathis has been a practicing music therapist in Australia for over a decade, specializing in acute pediatric care, children with disabilities and parent support. If you would like any more information, please feel free to get in touch with me via social media or email:
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