Analytical Music Therapy (AMT) techniques IV

Ego strengthening

Techniques for ego-strengthening

These are techniques “designed to keep the ego much more firmly in control of matters”. (Priestley 1994) This phase is needed after exploration into the unconscious realm so the various pieces like information and expressed feelings can be made whole and integrated again into the individual’s real life.  

Priestley has listed various techniques and clinical examples in her book “Essays on Analytical Music Therapy”. It is beyond the scope of this website to list them all out. However, as an example, the technique of wholeness is when “the client plays alone, on any instrument she chooses, while the therapist listens. She is told to play as if she were perfectly whole”. (Priestley 1994)

Structure is also another device used to strengthen the ego-organisation. The therapist will assess and determine if the individual will need more structure versus more freedom in the music. In the case of an individual who does not have a well-functioning ego-organisation, AMT will “replace a crippling structure with a benign enabling one”. (Priestley 1994) Clear defined boundaries give freedom and safety to the individual. This can be seen as a holding structure to keep the various disintegrated elements together in an individual’s psyche. Atonal dissonances can be used to bring out emotions more forcefully and tonal harmonies are generally used to “contain emotion in a reassuring way”. (Priestley 1994)

In Freud’s psychoanalysis theory, the super-ego tends to give boundaries and structures. “Whereby she accepts the boundary of a given structure as a partial super-ego, releases her own hold on some of the repressed material and allows this to surface in her mind during the improvisation with or without it being expressed in the music”. (Priestley 1994) In this way, the structure of the musical improvisation can serve to alleviate the hold of the super-ego to contain the repressed material in its tight structure and prevent them to surface in the conscious mind.     

Improvisation allows the individual to play in a safe manner to explore their own phantasies and repressed emotions. According to Priestley, a detour through phantasy can sometimes help the individual to find his or her bearings and come back to life in a healthy way. To Priestley, the element of play is very important to help the individual discover his or her own personal self. This is an idea also shared by Nordoff and Robbins in their work with special needs children. “It is in playing and only in playing that the individual or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self”. (Priestley 1994)

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