Analytical Music Therapy (AMT)


In the late 1960’s, Mary Priestley started developing the Analytical Music Therapy with Marjorie Wardell and Peter Wright. Analytical Music Therapy or AMT was developed primarily through Intertherapy work between Priestley, Wardell and Wright where each of them serves as therapist to another within the trio. Within this trio, each of them is a therapist as well as a patient to another. Through this work, they were able to explore their inner psyche, past emotional hurts, various psychoanalytical techniques and shadows to be worked through within themselves. The psychoanalytical techniques were used on their own individual psyches to determine which are effective for therapy uses. The result is the development of AMT which is built upon the theories of Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein.

Priestley believed strongly in having the therapist to do Intertherapy work before he or she is ready to practise AMT with individuals. There is a need to explore one’s inner life with another analytical music therapist so that the therapist does not confuse his or her own feelings with those of the individual.

According to Priestley, AMT is “used as a creative tool with which to explore the client’s inner life so as to provide the way forward for growth and greater self-knowledge”. (Priestley 1994) AMT is used a lot amongst mentally ill individuals in the hospital setting. Through this extensive clinical usage of AMT, Priestley was able to refine this method. This method is a systematic approach to explore the emotional world of people and to “work through the emotionally painful blockages before going forward with one’s development”. (Priestley 1994)

In AMT therapy, 4 aspects are used: “vocal, instrumental, movement with the body-as-instrument, and selective silence, all of which bring an awareness of one’s own inner music as well as music of wider spheres”. (Priestley 1994) During an AMT therapy, one needs to observe the verbal and body language of the patient as well as the language of the music produced. (Priestley 1994).

According to Priestley, “music is a language- a language of the emotions”. (Priestley 1994). Musical improvisation is the tool used in AMT to map out the individual’s emotional world which can be very complex and often with deep emotions still in the unconscious realm. Priestley listed 3 central emotions as love, joy and peace. Each of this emotion has a positive and negative aspect. The negative aspect of the above 3 emotions are selfishness, euphoria and apathy respectively.

Musical improvisation is very effective to bring out the hidden emotional content especially if the individual is not comfortable to share his or her real feelings and choose to hide behind words during the initial discussion with the therapist. Sometimes, the individual may not even be aware of the deep-seated emotions within his or her own psyche for example a past trauma that has been buried as a defence mechanism. The emotions from the past trauma may be too strong and violent for the individual to handle and to work through. As a result, these emotions get suppressed and lay dormant so that the individual can continue to function normally in daily life.    

According to Priestley, AMT “is a particular focus for emotional investigation through music which the therapist uses with a client”. (Priestley 1994) In AMT, it has been discovered that very often the hidden emotions in the unconscious realm will surface during the improvisation through the music and body language of the individual. Emotions which the individual chooses not to share with the therapist will also surface during the musical improvisation. Depending on the judgement of the therapist, the AMT can start either with a discussion with the individual to uncover the needs or go straight into musical improvisation because sometimes the musical improvisation may reveal much more about the individual than his or her sharing.  

The therapist will choose a theme, a word, an emotion, a person, a relationship or a particular situation in the life of the individual and both the therapist and individual will improvise musically to the word chosen. For instance, they can improvise to the word “mother”, “dark” or “boss” just to name a few. Through improvisations, the inner psyche and emotional spectrum of the individual are explored and made conscious. Emotions are expressed in sounds or movements. “Often this expression brings with it vivid memories and inner images”. (Priestley 1994) This is the first step to help the individual in becoming aware and to understand his or her own emotional world.  

Representation of deep emotions can be more acceptable and safer for individuals who may not be ready to face them and verbalise them consciously as the emotions may be too strong for them to handle and recognise as their own. (Priestley 1975) Through musical improvisations, these emotions reveal themselves but yet the individual still has a distance to them without taking ownership of them which may be too much to handle when the individual is not ready to face them. 

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