Music Therapy

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Music – with all of its complex beauty – not only relaxes children, it also soothes them during times of stress. Many of us may think it’s simply the enjoyment of listening to music that relaxes us, but in actuality, there’s something physical that occurs. Music therapy has some unexpected and valuable benefits for individuals with Cerebral Palsy.

Harmony and Balance

After a long day at work, many of us come home, turn on the stereo, mp3 player, or iPod to enjoy a little music. It allows us to wind down from a busy day; it gives us a sense of peace.

Many of us may think it’s simply the enjoyment of listening to music that relaxes us, but in actuality, there’s something physical that occurs. Music has some unexpected and valuable benefits for young people with disabilities.

Music – with all of its complex beauty – not only relaxes children, it also soothes them during times of stress. But one of the most noteworthy benefits is that it has been proven to help kids build language and listening skills.

The concept of music therapy has been practiced for years but was reconceived into a formal intervention for individuals with a disability in the 1940s. Programs for music therapy may be difficult to find in some communities, and because of its newness, it may not be covered with all insurances. But the medical profession, as a whole, has accepted the notion that music can be helpful.

It not only brings joy, it also creates an environment that allows young people to develop and focus on their overall well-being.

Striking a chord

According to the American Music Therapy Association, or AMTA, music therapy is an emerging, evidence-based use of music to establish a therapeutic relationship between an individual and his or her therapist. In addition, research indicates that those that participate in formal programs experience several benefits, including increased motivation, higher levels of relaxation, and improvement in movement, socialization and language skills.

Music also helps young people express their tastes, whether through listening activities, playing an instrument, singing along, or moving to music. In general, therapy is carried out by a credentialed psychologist and/or therapist.

Music therapy has been implemented in treatment programs for people who have experienced strokes, heart disease, and other maladies. People with psychological disorders such as schizophrenia have been known to benefit from music therapy, as well.

In the 1980s, therapists began using music to help children with disabilities. In the context of treating young people, therapists will take into consideration a child’s overall health, emotional state, cognitive ability, and social functioning.

Music therapy’s rehabilitative qualities are flexible enough to be implemented in a way that will address a child’s needs. In other words, children that need to develop social skills can take part in group performances and activities, or a child that needs to learn language and communication skills can participate in song to learn the words in music. Children with mobility difficulties can participate in dance, or exercise. Non-verbal children identify with and release emotion through music.

Playing the right notes

When a parent and child resolve to begin a music therapy program, the intervention could take several forms. Music therapists have been known to implement a variety of activities to treat a child’s needs.

After a comprehensive assessment, a child’s program could include anything from playing an instrument, or writing a song, or singing in the moment. Lyric association activities also help children learn new words; if he or she is listening to a song about a sheep, and looking at a photo of a sheep, the association is made.

Sometimes, children listen to music, and then discuss what they heard and what they feel. Music therapy can take place in an individual or group setting; depending on whether a child needs interaction with other children to grow and thrive.

Treatment goals will be measured to make sure the goals set forth in the child’s initial assessment are met, or exceeded.

It is not the goal of therapy to develop musical talent or acumen. The goal of therapy is to use the music to develop other skills – those they can use in their everyday life. Those goals include creating an environment in which a child can relax and concentrate, socialize and initiate conversation with other children or adults, understand and control their emotions, advance their cognitive abilities and increase their self-esteem. If the child emerges from the therapy without any particular talent for music, but the other goals are met, the therapy is considered a success.

Creating harmony

Although music therapy can be employed in part to address some physical challenges, music therapy is not an alternative to physical or occupational therapy but a complement.

Playing an instrument improves flexibility and dexterity, which in turn helps refine gross and fine motor skills. Dancing helps exercise muscles. The music also helps lower the heart rate. But the benefits don’t end there.

Research has shown that music therapy helps with alertness because the beat of the music helps a child build connections within the brain that help them concentrate and focus. This helps the child respond to external stimuli quickly and appropriately. It can also ease muscle tension which is something that can significantly benefit a young person who has Cerebral Palsy.

The rhythmic nature of music also helps children with Cerebral Palsy organize their gait – they can time their movements to the beat of the music. This, in turn, allows therapy to take place in a way that is fun for a child.

The same concept also rings true when a child is learning to speak. The child can speak, or sing, in tandem with the music, which helps them develop control of the vocal muscles that are so often a difficulty for children with Cerebral Palsy. Repetitive speech – the kind of speech that takes place in song or specialized exercise – can improve a child’s ability to participate in a conversation.

Because verbal difficulties tend to construct communication barriers that can erode a child’s self-esteem, any therapy that can help a child move past his or her vocal issues is likely to be welcomed by a parent.

Cognitively, music therapy can be used to help a child recall conversation just as he or she would remember song lyrics.

Psychologically, the upbeat music can create a sense of optimism which has both physical and emotional benefits. Music therapy may not play a crucial role in a child’s overall medical treatment plan, but it can make a difference in how a child perceives therapy – and how he or she perceives his or her situation.

A child with Cerebral Palsy typically faces many challenges; a significant amount of time is spent in therapy. It’s not often that a therapy can be a source of enjoyment in and of itself.

For more information on music as therapy

To find a therapist

Music therapy is carried out in a variety of settings. Children may receive therapy in a hospital, rehabilitation facility, clinic, day care centers, community centers or specialized centers.

To find a music therapist

American Music Therapy Association – Music Therapist Search

Certified Music Therapist Verification

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

therapy balls

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy

A person’s ability to transcend his or her physical limits is in no small part due to the kinds of therapies that are used to fine-tune his or her abilities. Therapy fosters functionality, mobility, fitness, and independence. The types of therapies vary based on a person’s unique needs, type of Cerebral Palsy, extent of impairment and associative conditions. Therapy can also help parents and caregivers.

Therapy for Cerebral Palsy includes