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)

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