NMT and Improvisational Music Therapy: A healthy blend of approaches
For a long time I thought I was a rare breed. I loved and adored the Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy and utilized improvisation-based techniques in many of my sessions with great success. At the same time I was also very drawn to learning about neurological processes and how music supports and accesses certain areas of the brain. In fact that strong interest led me to complete the NMT training (Neurologic Music Therapy) and get my master’s Degree from Colorado State University–the hub of NMT.
I was honestly unaware of the mysterious “clash” between these two schools of thought until I interacted with some music therapists who had only been exposed to one area or the other. On each side, they were surprised that I was also interested in the so-called “opposite approach”. The general stereotype was that improvisational approaches were “fluffy and unsubstantiated”, and that the NMT approach was “impersonal and rigid”. Both statements couldn’t be further from the truth.
I attended the Nordoff-Robbins summer workshop back in 2009 and was overcome with the beauty and indescribable magic that happens at that clinic. I love it oh so much. I was honored to accompany the infamous (and well-missed) Clive Robbins while he told his classic story about the boy who was crying and found comfort through Paul Nordoff’s brilliantly improvised song, “When You Feel Like Crying”. I came home from that workshop with a renewed desire to expand my musical skills and increase my connection to my clients through music.
The next year I had more questions about what was going neurologically for my clients as I worked with them. Why did I see certain responses? What was happening on a neurological level that made some techniques work and others not? My curiosity went so far that I decided to enroll in the graduate program at Colorado State University and began in June of 2010. I started off with the NMT training and knew right away that I was doing the right thing for myself. The things I learned about music and the brain brought me so much excitement and doubled my passion (who knew that was possible!).
During my time in the CSU graduate program I met a wide range of wonderful music therapists who had various views on how to define music therapy. I was ready to defend my passion for improvisation-based methods, and did so on occasion, only to discover that many of my peers felt the exact same way. They saw that each approach/school of thought had great value, and each could and should be used in different types of situations based on the needs of the client. It was so validating to see that other music therapists were not pushing away what I saw as the “magic” of improvisational music therapy, nor were they discrediting the unsubstantiated impact of neurological research in music therapy. Both areas are critical to the growth and success of our field.
For those therapists who gravitate to one area or the other, I highly encourage expanding your experience to include schools of thought which may challenge your current opinions. I challenge myself to do the same!