The Role of Music in Music Therapy: Motivation and Facilitation
Music therapy helps children develop skills on both a conscious and subconscious level. It can quite literally help the body and mind complete tasks that were previously quite difficult. Find out how!
When people ask about what music therapy is and how it can help their child, I like to start by explaining the domains we address: social, cognitive, communication, motor, sensory, and emotional regulation. I also give a few examples of what we might do to for one or more of those areas. If they probe deeper, I explain the role music plays in addressing those areas, and over time I have come to delineate the role of music into two categories: Motivation and Facilitation.
Music to Motivate
This is a fairly intuitive concept for anyone who enjoys music. Adding a musical component to a task generally increases motivation (think of exercise) and results in increased attention, improved mood, longevity, and therefore increased skill acquisition. This is no exception when working with children. For many children, music is an attractive experience and can help them be more excited about learning, moving, talking, and interacting with their peers. Think about it–singing the ABC’s is a way more fun (and effective) way to learn than just saying them, right? There is something about music and the way it affects our whole system and emotions that can make almost anything more enjoyable, and music therapy is the way to tap into that in a therapeutic context.
Music to Facilitate
The other reason why music works is because it can actually facilitate (i.e, to make something easier, to help or cause) an action. Unlike motivation, the facilitation factor is not quite as intuitive or well understood. In my graduate training I studied a great deal on how music impacts the brain and how to use that to bring about functional change. The reason facilitation works is because music stimulates whole-brain processing, which includes those areas that are also responsible for other functions like speech, movement, cognition, emotion, sensory processing (kinda like those domains we address… :)) This is super exciting to me as a music therapist because I can literally use my music to bring about and drive functional change. When used correctly (and this is a whole other ball game on technique that I won’t get into here. See my post on techniques for more info), music can facilitate the development of specific skills such as forming speech sounds, making certain movements, attending to an activity, following directions, and so forth. It can actually drive the child to do certain things because of the way it impacts their neural system. Cool right?
So for anyone who is wondering “why music therapy?”, or “what can this do that’s different from other therapies?” you can take away the ideas of music for MOTIVATION and music for FACILITATION. It seriously works.