Analytical Music Therapy (AMT) techniques V

Port of entry

“Port of entry” is indicated by Freud as that “which puts the network into a state of excitation”. (Priestley 1994) Priestley has indicated 3 mental mental operations as entry points into one’s pysche through music   

Free emotional musical expression varying in pitch and rhythm:

  1. Can express an emotion and allow a stream of memories and thoughts to arise in the mind of the individual.
  2. Emotion is expressed through the musical expression but it cannot be linked to a thought or memory within the individual.
  3. Emotions are blocked by the individual and the musical improvisation is only heard as sounds with no links to thoughts and feelings.  

The second mental operation is the musical expression of the resistance which prevents the individual to connect the musical expression with his or her own thoughts and feelings. This musical expression is usually like an ostinato and is not more than a few tones and sounds like the chants of ancient religions. This type of musical expression can lead to the release of memories, thoughts and feelings.

The 3rd mental operation is the actual musical expression of the resistance energy blocking the painful emotion. This is a compulsive rhythmic beating and usually very unpleasant to listen to. Through such a musical expression, sometimes the underlying emotion can be detected, expressed and released.

 Priestley further indicated 4 modes that can be useful for improvisation: Dorian, Aeolian, Pentatonic and Eastern scale (A, B, C, D#, E, F, G#, A). (Priestley 1975)

In Jung’s idea of the shadow, music can be a bridge between consciousness and both the personal and collective unconscious. (Priestley 1994) This is done through improvised music in therapy which is an emotional language that can be connected to a deeper awareness using words during the reflection and discussion phase. Through this review and discussion, the material from the unconscious realm can enter into the conscious mind.      

3 factors were listed by Priestley that can help in the internal healing process: “the teleological (goal-seeking) child with his/ her goal of wholeness; the presence of objects to play with; and the close personal attention of an adult who is willing to believe that the child’s activities have meaning and value even if she does not always know exactly what the meaning is at any given moment”. (Priestley 1994)

Priestley also expressed this phenomenon which she termed as “Receptive Creative Experience” (Priestley 1994) where the individual and therapist can engage fully in the present moment and “gained a feeling of a greater breadth of being”. (Priestley 1994) This is a feeling and awareness experienced by both the therapist and individual which is beyond their individual personality.

“Reaching up into a psychic area of light and freedom into which the sounds leap with ecstatic excitement and the two players become not one but three, again the third being the containing matrix of the music’s wholeness”. (Priestley 1994) In this phenomenon, the experience is that of the music appearing to be playing the people instead of the other way round. This is a common experience shared by many accomplished jazz improvisers and in some rare occasions of my performing work I have had the joy and awe of reaching into this space.   

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)

Analytical Music Therapy (AMT) techniques III


Transference and countertransference

In AMT, the therapist and individual are believed to be connected strongly by transference and countertransference. These are 2 common concepts within psychoanalysis. “Freud referred to the phenomenon of transference as “wrong association,” as he recognised that some of his patients were regarding him with emotions that were relevant to previous relationships in their lives, usually parental”. (Priestley 1994) Transference can also be the projection of conflicting parts of the individual’s psyche to the therapist to get rid of it and coming to terms with it. (Priestley 1975) This gives the possibility of playing out repetitive emotional reactions, re-educating it during therapy and to change it and to develop and grow. The therapist “must survive being the bearer of the projections and penetrations by projective identification of his patients, without himself identifying with them”. (Priestley 1994)  “If the therapist cannot work through the negative transference of a patient, the patient then cannot withdraw her bad projection and introject a good-enough therapist object”. (Priestley 1994) As such, the therapist needs to be strongly anchored and have a deep understanding of his or her own psyche without slipping into the projections from the individual during therapy. When this happens, the therapy will go in the other direction and will be harmful for both the therapist and individual.

Countertransference refers to “the therapist’s identification with unconscious feelings, self-parts (instinctive self, rational self or conscience) or internal objects of the clients, which, being conscious in the therapist, can serve him as a guide to the client’s hidden inner life”. (Priestley 1975) This can also be seen as the intuition of the therapist and an inner connection to the psyche of the individual. To have this form of countertransference, the therapist needs to adopt the role of an inner objective observer with lots of practice to discern which emotions are from the individual and which are the therapist’s own impulses. In addition to this active observation ongoing, the therapist will still need to play an active role in playing and responding musically to the individual.

The complexity of the situation is that the therapist may find it hard to separate his or her emotions with that of the individual’s. This is the reason why Priestley advocated strongly on the need for Intertherapy work to be done before the therapist begins his or her own therapy work with individuals. This can be seen as a form of inner work and self-development of the therapist.   

Countertransference can be a very useful tool to help the therapist be guided to the individual’s repressed energy. “It is a very remarkable thing that the unconscious of one human being can react upon that of another, without passing through the conscious”. (Priestley 1994)  Sometimes, countertransference or emotions of the individual can also be felt physically in the therapist’s body which in the case of Priestley was usually in her stomach area.

“There is an inner way of feeding back to the patient her unconscious feelings as experienced by the therapist in the countertransference”. (Priestley 1994) For instance, the music played by the therapist may express sadness but the therapist can be emotionally calm and balanced without being drawn into the emotions expressed during the musical improvisation. There are both inner and outer stimuli which the therapist needs to observe.  The ability to change the harmonies is a good way to change and control the mood during the therapy. An example from Priestley is that of a manic-depressive patient playing very angry music but yet producing in the therapist through countertransference a feeling of deep sadness. This sad feeling was then given a musical expression by the therapist which changed the patient’s music to be one of very quiet and then later remarked by the patient that “you were playing me.” (Priestley 1994)

In AMT, it is important to express the feelings but not be taken over by them and the therapist needs to maintain his or her own centre and balance. Hidden, repressed emotions that are expressed through music or verbally during the review need to be given back to the individual in order for the therapist not to be affected by them and for the individual to accept, own and work through these emotions.


Analytical Music Therapy (AMT) techniques II


Techniques for accessing the unconscious

Various techniques have been described by Priestley to gain access to the unconscious realm. One of the main way is through symbols which is also a main technique in psychoanalysis. Symbols are a way to access and understand the unconscious mind. “Symbols are accumulators and transformers of psychic energy. They have the relationship to ideas and action that an iceberg has to a waterfall”. (Priestley 1975) “It is the cold, frantic denial of emotion that causes horrible splits in the mind and leaks out into strange ideas, bodiless voices and chill moonlit inner landscapes”. (Priestley 1975)

Symbols can be explored in dream work with the individual where he or she finds the association with each object in the dream and imagines oneself being the object. The therapist will then lead the individual to find the link between the dream and everyday life. Through improvisation, the therapist can also lead the individual to go back and find a good resolution and ending to a very bad dream.

In the beginning, there is a need for a loosening-up process  to allow the unconscious to “fertilise the conscious mind”. (Priestley 1975) Symbols will reveal more to the therapist because the individual may not even be aware of it. Priestley also worked a lot with guided imagery improvisations to access the unconscious mind. Individuals are given certain imageries which he or she will improvise to. At the end, there will be a playback of the recorded musical improvisation with a discussion with the individual on what he or she is experiencing and imagining throughout the improvisation.     

Following are some of the guided imagery improvisations used by Priestley:  

Cave Mouth:  the individual is asked to imagine “standing hidden behind a tree in a forest clearing watching the mouth of a cave. As she watches, something emerges”. (Priestley 1994) The individual will improvise according to this imagery and this has been found to reveal suppressed emotions and can be seen as pre-verbal images.   

Ascending a Mountain: the individual is made to imagine this ascent and later to describe the difficulties, obstacles and finally the view from the top. The mountain is the symbol of life’s aspiration.  

Door in a High Wall: the title of the subject to be explored is written on the door and the individual is to open and see what is behind.

Shells, Stones, Sand and Sounds: with the therapist playing xylophone and cymbal, the individual will put the shell or stone on the sand in a tray repeatedly and slowly in a calming mindless manner which is believed to bring out the deepest hidden thoughts from within the individual.

Through these various techniques, the hidden emotions may emerge from the unconscious realm for the individual to become aware of. Priestley (1994) indicated that it is important to have reflection, knowledge and understanding of the emotions that are released during the therapy. Without this, it will just be a temporary relief with tension mounting again with the need for another relief. “Once an emotion is clothed in words, they both can become like building blocks that one can play with”. (Priestley 1994) So it is important to process together, understand and verbalise the emotional release that has happened. Within Freud’s theoretical framework, the ego is not satisfied with the relief through musical expression and needs an understanding. “Feelings not conscious enough to form words can be expressed in sound, and when the emotion is thus clothed, words are able to take over the expression of the feelings once more”. (Priestley 1994) Therapist and individual will listen to the playback of the recorded improvisation and talk about the feelings expressed. “With the music as anchor the consciousness enters strange, not very well-known regions”. (Priestley 1994) Feelings can be expressed in music, sometimes even hidden feelings so that they can be made aware and eventually accepted by the individual.    

 “Sometimes an inner change comes about by bringing to the surface a festering thought which was working away beneath the level of consciousness”. (Priestley 1975) Once made conscious, the individual can work through it and prevent the suppressed emotions to remain in the unconscious realm or even be expressed unknowingly as negative actions in real life. In music therapy, the individual comes into confrontation with emotions that have been split off. Slowly the individual will accept, own the hidden emotions and work through them.

The music expressed by the individual will change as the therapist goes deeper into the psyche. This is termed by Priestley as inner music which “is the prevailing emotional climate behind the structure of someone’s thoughts”. (Priestley 1975)

Analytical Music Therapy (AMT) techniques I


Following are some techniques explained by Priestley which are commonly used in AMT.  

The holding technique allows the individual to have a musical framework to experience the whole range of his or her emotions right through to climax but still contained by the therapist. For instance, when the situation becomes too frenzied, tonal music and common major chords are used to create familiarity and security. In this technique, the therapist should follow the emotional lead of the individual with enough space but yet with impulses given to the individual from time to time to continue playing out the emotions right through to the end. A very close balance needs to be maintained with the aim of bringing the individual all the way to the emotion’s climax for example- aggression. In this way, negative emotions are released without them playing out in the real life of the individual. Critical to this technique is the holding role of the therapist when the emotional releases can be chaotic. In order for the therapist to be centered and anchored, his or her own deep psyche has to be explored thoroughly first so that it will not flow into the cathartic release of the individual and create a situation beyond control.  

In the splitting technique, the individual will role play another person and improvise as that person. This helps the individual to separate his or her own emotional projection onto another person and to really feel the emotions of the person as they should be. For example, the individual can role play his or her father and improvise as how the father would. This creates the space for the individual to explore which emotions belong really to the father and which are really his or her own.  

Repression and health

“Jung said that every patient has a secret and that until it is told she cannot regain her health”. (Priestley 1994). Repressed material in the unconscious realm may have far reaching effects later in the life. “Repression renders a threatening impulse or idea unconscious”. (Priestley 1994) For instance, past sexual trauma in the childhood may lead to the repression of sexual feelings in later life.  

Repression according to Freud is a defence mechanism used by the ego. Ego defences “help to keep at bay some of the overwhelming anxiety that would otherwise be caused by the awareness of certain threatening feelings, thoughts, impulses and memories”. (Priestley 1994) Anxiety can come from stimuli overwhelming the ego or when the ego is alerted of external danger or internal danger from the super-ego or id.   

In Freud’s idea of the pysche, the id is the part which is unknown and where the sexual and aggressive instincts reside. Super-ego are the boundaries, rules and norms which are shaped by parents and the cultural context in which the individual is in. Both the id and super-ego are influencing the ego constantly to ensure that primal instincts are kept in check and that the individual is within the acceptable cultural rules and norms. (Priestley 1994)   

In addition to repression, there are other ego defences used such as denial which is a disavowal of some aspect of one’s personality. Splitting is where one part of the personality relates to the subject and not the others. In the context of AMT, Priestley indicated that the therapist should choose the instrument for the individual to use instead of letting him or her choose. This is because the individual may likely pick an instrument to avoid tackling the blocked areas in his or her life. Ego defences become the resistance in the subconscious of the individual preventing him or her to face the root causes of pain/ hurt and move on.   

“Human beings who habitually use too many or too bizarre ego defences, have very little freely-circulating energy left to spend on the rest of their life-activities”. (Priestley 1994) Strong emotions directed in music and held by the therapist does not threaten the ego. Through musical improvisations, the strong emotions have an outlet for release.  

Jung brought the idea of the unconscious 1 step further with positive qualities. “Central to Jungian theory is the concept of the shadow, or personal unconscious, that region of the mind which contains lost memories, impulses, instincts, and ideas which are not acceptable to the ego-consciousness and are therefore repressed. A deeper region containing archaic, archetypal, and instinctive inheritances Jung called the collective unconscious. Its contents are neither repressed nor available to normal consciousness”. (Priestley 1994) This collective unconscious according to Jung can be dragged into consciousness when one works with the shadow. The collective unconscious is described as, “I am utterly one with the world, so much part of it that I forget all too easily who I really am”. (Priestley 1994) When a person projects his/ her shadow, baser instincts, etc are only seen in others. “Action produced by the tension of opposites can signify true progress”. (Priestley 1994) Good qualities are also hidden in the shadow like “realistic insights, creative impulses, etc”. (Priestley 1994) It is in the working of these 2 polarities in tension that Man can develop and progress.

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. 

Group therapy

Group therapy

Therapy can be done in a group setting instead of a one-to-one format. Commonly done in group therapy is group drumming and singing. In drumming it is believed that “the magnetic pull to the drums breaks through resistance and the barriers that block our healing journey” and “drumming is the ultimate be here now strategy.” (Hanser 2016)

“In the early 1960s, researcher Andrew Neher studied the effects of Shamanic-style drumming on the central nervous system and discovered that the steady rhythm altered activity in “many sensory and motor areas of the brain, not ordinarily affected. . . .” Neher theorized that this occurred because the many frequencies within a single drumbeat can stimulate numerous neural pathways in the brain. As well, the brain can receive a greater amount of the low-frequency stimulus normally produced by a drum because “the low frequency receptors of the ear are more resistant to damage than the delicate high-frequency receptors and can withstand higher amplitudes of sound before pain is felt”. (Gaynor 2002)

Research conducted by Wolfgang Jilek on shamanistic dancing found that the polyrhythms and low frequencies can help to induce theta brain waves which are often linked to trance states in human beings. (Gaynor 2002)

In group singing, the blending of voices can allow individuals to experience a reality higher than themselves for example in a community choir, Waldorf class singing and church worship sessions just to name a few. In the blending of voices, a new sound is created between all the various unique voices which can create the experience of a higher reality. Such platforms can also support the social well-being of individuals.

The singing of vowels is good for sickness of heart and blood circulation. When mantras are sung, it has been found that the heart adopts a musical structure like the fundamental frequency with its overtones which can be measured and observed by ECG. When there are many overtones like the singing bowls’ sound, the brain will pause in its analysis of the fundamental frequency as there are too many overlapping frequencies which are not the usual expectation by the brain. According to Nordoff and Robbins, “singing is a direct expression of the ego living simultaneously in its emotional life, its mental life, and in its physical vocal apparatus”. (Nordoff & Robbins 1973)

Colouring with sounds

Kandinsky quote.jpg

As a musician, I have always been searching for the ‘perfect’ tone on my instruments to match what I am hearing inside. I am a strong believer that every tone is unique with its own personality and affecting us in its personal way. It will be ideal in music therapy where one has a range of musical instruments to use to work on different parts of the body.

The tone from different musical instruments is believed to work on different parts of the body. Different instruments produce their own unique tones and is felt strongly in different parts of the physical body. For example, when there is scratching of nails across a blackboard. Such a sound is felt strongly on the skin as if it has been scratched and the sound does not goes deep into the body but remains on the surface.

According to Martina Etterich, a music therapist from Germany, nature sounds help with blood diseases. The acoustical tone from instruments ideally should have the quality of light and warmth in therapy. There needs also to have light from the faces of the teacher, musician and therapist to come alongside the light and clarity in the musical tone.

Following are some examples of how tone works on the physical body:

“If, on the other hand, you listen to a beautiful piece on the violin, you experience this somewhere else. The sound of the violin, if it is pure, is really related to the feelings. It does not remain on the surface of the skin, but it penetrates under the skin as if it were caressing you there. This is how it speaks to the feelings. And it is no coincidence that a violin played off-key, with a scratching sound, is so similar to scratching a blackboard. The effects on our body are close together. Another exercise we can do with the violin is to try to experience what happens to the sound in our body when we hear a scale played from low to high. We notice, especially when we are standing, that the tones climb up in our body like a growing vine”. (Soesman 1990)

Through the usage of different tonal colours, inner spaces within the individual can be accessed which seem to be lost and also struggling with its own soul trauma. For example, as the sound changes from the tam tam to the triangle, the experience created is that of the tone moving from a warm dark archaic power to one of light and form. Such a polarity in tonal colours can create a sense of balance within the individual.

Spiritual science therapy

Anthro medicine.jpg

In 1958 in United Kingdom, Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins paired up and developed a creative music therapy approach based on anthroposophical concepts. Improvisational music was used to help children with multiple disabilities. In the 1960’s, they began to spread this approach to all around United Kingdom, Europe America, New Zealand and Australia. In the 1980’s, the Nordoff-Robbins’s training reached the University of Herdecke at the same time when Mary Priestley was giving her training on Analytical Music Therapy. Herdecke was also the place where one of the earliest anthroposophical hospital started. These various streams merging at Herdecke gave a strong impulse to the development of anthroposophical music therapy. These pioneers were very influential in the development of music therapy in West Germany. (Wheeler 2015)      

The following paragraphs provide an overview of current anthroposophical music therapy and is referenced from the book “Musik in Pädagogik und Therapie” (2004) edited by Gerhard Beilharz, a leading anthroposophical music therapist in Germany.   

Music therapy can be considered as a form of psychotherapy, therapy for the soul at the nonverbal level that goes right into the body. It is a combination of free play and directed exercise. In free play form, the therapist will follow the child’s own will. In therapy, the inner world of feelings of the individual is mirrored in music and the therapist has to find an access point into this world for treatment.  

The therapy process begins with diagnosis by collecting perceptions and gathering background on the individual. In a systematic way, the therapist will discover the area or areas in the individual that need to be supported in therapy.

Following are some questions that the therapist will consider:

– how does the individual make music?

– how experienced is the individual in making music?

– what connections the individual has with melody, harmony and rhythm?

When the individual can observe himself or herself in the musical element during therapy, it will bring about self knowledge and the possibility of change. This is an integration process where the patient can be more whole than before. Therapy is not about creating art but rather to help the individual connect with the artistic process towards wholeness. To connect with the artistic process and to have the self-awareness during therapy, all the senses of the individual need to be engaged. For instance, the eye-hand coordination and sense of balance when playing the instrument during therapy. In this active therapy of music making with the therapist, the individual’s senses are connected with their inner activity and this gives the possibility to express their inner experience. A connection is made between music, feeling and movement. When these 3 elements are in alignment, there is a very good possibility of expression during therapy. This process also supports the various senses to work together and be integrated. Following is an example used in a hospital setting by music therapist Joke Bradt:

“Dr. Bradt asked each child to select from a variety of musical instruments and mimic what pain might sound like. She asked them, “Which of these instruments sound most like the pain you’re having right now? Does your pain have a beat? How strong/ intense is your pain right now?”. Bradt improvised around those sounds and asked the child to suggest modifications to create sounds that were more resonant with the sensation of pain. Once the child agreed that the sound match was accurate, Bradt attempted to improvise sounds that soothed, or represented “pain-healing sounds.” She played with these new sounds and instruments until the child agreed that the effect was soothing”. (Hanser 2016)

Music creates a special space that supports free expression. The border between inside and outside of the soul is loosening from the physical body and new integration processes are made possible. Music therapy works at the level of thinking, feeling, willing, psychological and vital forces, between conscious and unconscious psychological experiences as well as between different senses.

Music therapy is a kind of illness prevention as well. In the healing process, one needs both medical and therapeutic help. The impulse towards health needs to arise from one’s own will and cannot be forced upon from the outside Music therapy can be used to support the will of the individual to change. In this change, the personality has a chance to develop further. 

Following are general steps taken in the anthroposophical music therapy process:

– diagnosis

– formulate the direction of treatment

– doing the treatment

– evaluation and writing a report

These are outer states of a therapeutic process. The patient undergoes inner steps of development in this process. Detailed and clear observation is needed to determine the needs of the individual and what can meet the needs effectively.  

There has to be a good balance of rational thinking and intuition during therapy. The rational aspect is stronger in diagnostics. There is more intuitive element during the actual treatment for eg what instrument and musical elements to use. Deep listening and observation are important to determine the impulses coming from the individual and the developmental direction that he or she would like to take. When intuition is given space to flourish, the therapeutic process gains depth. A critical review is useful after the therapy as a reflection to give the possibility of change in the therapeutic process to better support the individual.  

In the diagnostics, it is important to have a rich image of the individual built by perceptions of what the problem is. The musical medium is chosen and there is a question if the individual in his or her subjective experience can accept the musical instrument and elements chosen. The musical instrument becomes effective when the will of the individual can connect with it. This is a research process to find together with the individual which musical elements connect best with him or her. The therapist should proceed with the actual treatment in a meditative and intuitive manner towards the individual rather than rigidly following a formulaic process.

When there is a team of therapists to work on the same individual, then everyone can contribute their own observations which can give a well-rounded image of the individual and helps in the inspiration to search for what to do in the actual treatment.

The soul is always singing, playing and improvising. It needs to be set free, has an outward expression, being creative, have fun and enjoy. Music can give structure to the soul processes which are out of balance and bring them into balance again.


Overview of Music Therapy history

“The use of music in healing practices can be traced back as far as 20,000 years with shamanic drumming practices for healing”. (Brooke 2006) Even today, shamanic drumming is still being practised to help shamans reach an altered state of consciousness to connect with spirits and their patients in order to find a specific song to drive out illnesses. Illnesses was believed in olden times to be caused by spirits and these bad spirits needed to be driven out in order for health to return. Even in many indigenous tribes of today, for example, the Ayahuasca tribes, they believe in the communion with the spiritual world and elementals in Nature to obtain remedies for healing.

In the Sufi philosophy, it is believed that each being is singing its own personal song. One has to find it and learn to sing it properly. This is believed as the spiritual way to healing. The art of healing is to identify where the disharmony is and to balance it.

Sufi master Hazrat Inayat Khan wrote, “The physical effect of sound has also a great influence upon the human body. The whole mechanism, the muscles, the blood circulation, the nerves are all moved by the power of vibration. As there is resonance for every sound, so the human body is a living resonator for sound. . . . Every pitch that is a natural pitch of the voice will be a source of a person’s own healing as well as of that of others when he sings a note of that pitch”. (Gaynor 2002) In the Sufi philosophy, illnesses are disharmony, either physical or mental in nature and one acts on the other in close connection.

The chanting of vowel sounds is practised in Sufi and other Eastern philosophies such as Tibetan overtoning because it is believed that “the true healing power of sound” comes from the chanting of harmonics”. (Gaynor 2002)

In 6th century BC, illness in ancient Greece was cured from homeostasis. Rational thinking and empirical evidence came into the study of medicine which also shaped medical thinking today. During the Greek era, healing was based on Hippocrates’s theory of 4 humors: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. Good health was based on the equilibrium of these 4 humors. Pythagoras believed that when order and harmony are restored, health will return. Music is the element which according to Pythagoras can establish order and harmony in people. Music, according to Pythagoras, is operated by the same mathematical laws that govern the cosmos or what was known as  “music of the spheres”. The same set of mathematical laws are believed to govern the cosmos, the human being and also music.  The Greek thinking is rooted in order, harmony and balance which also strongly influenced their healing philosophy. This point in history marks a shift in healing from spiritually-centered to bodily-centered. The Ancient Greeks were not the only culture that worked with the concept of balancing in healing. The Sufis also view that illness is disharmony- either physical disharmony or mental disharmony and one acts upon the other.

Even into the Renaissance period, this Greek thinking guided musical compositions with soprano, alto, tenor and bass voicings to represent Hippocrates’s theory of 4 humors. Many theorists like Gioseffo Zarlino advocated that physicians needed to be trained as musicians so that music could be used effectively as therapy.  It was during the Renaissance period that music expanded from curative medicine to preventive medicine where people were taught to use music to guard against negative feelings. Music was believed to build resistance against diseases. Music as preventative medicine continued into the Baroque and Classical periods. With the arrival of the scientific approach to medicine and the need for empirical medicine, there was a growing disconnect between music and medicine. They finally became separated in the middle of the 17th century during the Age of Enlightenment whereas before that, music and medicine were integral to a physician’s training.   

The usage of music in therapy is also present in the Chinese culture. The Chinese used a scale which is built upon the intervals of the 5th so the notes used are: C, G, D, A, E. This scale is called the scale of the 5 elements. The notes correspond to the functions of the organs as follows:

C: spleen

G: heart

D: lungs

A: kidneys

E: liver

These musical notes are believed to enhance the functions of the organs in the body rather than the individual physical organ itself. For example, G is believed to help in the overall circulation of the body and A to help in the detoxification of the body.

In 2013,  Liao, J. and his colleagues “conducted a randomized controlled trial on the impact of this five-element music. In a well-controlled study of 170 Chinese patients with advanced cancer, one group listened to five elements music, another heard Western music regularly, and a control group who did not listen to music at all. Results indicated that those who listened to the five-element music scored significantly higher than those who heard Western music or those in the control group, on measures of quality of life and functional impairment, as well as symptoms entered in their diaries”. (Hanser 2016)

While music has been used through the millennia, it was only after WW2 that the idea of a formal music therapy program came about. Huge number of soldiers returned from the battlefield, injured and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“With many of these soldiers, it was found that their pain and misery and even, seemingly, some of their physiological responses (pulse rates, blood pressure, and so on) could be improved by music. Doctors and nurses in many veterans hospitals started to invite musicians to come and play for their patients, and musicians were only too happy to bring music to the dreadful wards of the wounded. But it was soon evident that enthusiasm and generosity were not enough- some professional training was needed as well. The first formal music therapy program was set up in 1944 at Michigan State University, and the National Association for Music Therapy was formed in 1950”. (Sacks 2008)

Since then, music therapy has been readily used for pain management, neo-natal care, to fasten healing after operation, to treat depression and asthma. In America, there is a growing branch of healthcare called “Integrative Health” where other healing systems like music therapy, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda have been incorporated to the overall care of the patients in the hospitals in addition to modern medicine.  

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