Music Therapy

Music Therapy

“Almost all children respond to music. Music is an open-sesame, and if you can use it carefully and appropriately, you can reach into that child’s potential for development.” Dr. Clive Robbins

What is Music Therapy?

Every child is uniquely responsive to music despite illness, impairment or disability. Music therapy is a health profession that develops this response in order to help the child reach developmental goals and improve overall functioning and well-being. It uses evidence-based techniques to focus on emotional, communication, cognitive, social and motor goals through the medium of music. Because it works primarily with sound and is a tactile experience, music therapy is an ideal way of meeting these needs in children with a visual impairment. Central to the work is the development of the therapeutic relationship between child and therapist within a safe and predictable environment.  Through this process, creative potential is fostered and self-expression, autonomy and self-esteem are promoted.

What’s the difference between music therapy & music education?

Music therapy and music education are complementary yet distinct disciplines.  They both aim to facilitate growth and development, however the specific goals targeted by each discipline are different. Music educators specialise in the acquisition of musical knowledge, skills, and appreciation while music therapists use music as a vehicle to achieve non-music goals (Daveson & Edwards, 1998).

Why are children referred?

Children with a wide variety of needs can benefit from music therapy including: emotional & behavioural difficulties, Autistic Spectrum Conditions, physical & intellectual disabilities and communication or attention deficits. Some typical music therapy goals include:Develop sense of self/other

  • Increase shared interaction
  • Promote expressive language
  • Develop social skills with peers
  • Provide an outlet for emotion self-expression
  • Emotional support during a difficult time/bereavement/illness
  • Increase self-esteem and confidence
  • Promote attention and listening skills
  • Develop executive functioning skills
  • Provide sensory experiences
  • Promote body awareness, coordination & motor skills


Music therapy programmes

A music therapy assessment happens over 2-3 sessions and helps identify the child’s needs, strengths and interests. Teachers are consulted during this process and therapeutic goals are developed. Programmes generally run for 1 term but his can be extended for priority cases and where a child is making considerable progress. Children may move between individual and group programmes depending on their needs.  In some cases, the therapist may work with teachers or parents in a consultative way providing resources for the classroom/home. Progress is evaluated throughout the process and a report is provided at the end of the school year.

What happens in a session?

A typical session often starts with a “Hello” song, which serves as a transitional function from previous classroom activities. The rest of the session will consist of individualised techniques which target the clinical goals. These can include: singing or vocalising, playing structured music or improvising on various percussion and melodic instruments, movement to music, songwriting, lyric analysis or music listening. Improvisation is central to the work and this is where Interactive music is created by the child and therapist. The therapist uses instruments or voice to acknowledge and support what the child’s musical expression and encourage initiation and interaction. Essential aspects of nonverbal communication are encouraged in music therapy such as turn taking, eye contact, anticipation, listening and concentration, and supporting awareness of self and others. Through musical interaction in a therapeutic context, the child’s abilities are promoted and strengthened and these gains are often observed outside of therapy in their daily lives.

Further information

Please contact: Bill Ahessy


Links and Further Information

Irish Association for Creative Arts Therapists

Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy [Free online journal]

Music therapy for children with severe and profound multiple disabilities

Music therapy for children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems

Music therapy in the assessment and treatment of autistic spectrum disorders

Music therapy in special education: Where are we now?

Research and resources in music therapy: An update of evidence bank