TIME-A: trial of music therapy with autism

Exciting times, right now there’s a global randomised controlled trial of music therapy with children on the autism spectrum – known as TIME-A (Trial of Improvisational Music therapy’s Effectiveness for children with Autism)

More than 360 children aged 4-7 are involved already, and the first results will be available in mid-2016 – the largest research of non-pharmacological therapy for autism yet.

The study protocol is also available online.

More posts soon on autism & more.


Books books books

Here’s a few of the books I’ve been reading: some are specifically about music therapy, others are about related subjects. They’re listed in the order I came to them – and many more will join the list, perhaps in a future post…


Music Therapy: Intimate Notes – Pavlicevic
This was recommended to me when I first began looking into music therapy, and provides a lot of insight – get a copy if you’re at all interested in the subject!

Key Concepts in Psychoanalysis – Frosch
A run-down of many topics in this area, eg: unconscious, transference, etc…

The Divided Self – Laing
Came across this in the library, a riveting read about psychotherapy and more.

A Secure Base – Bowlby
Attachment, parenting and more topics which can come into play during music therapy.

Musicophilia – Sacks
Tales of music and the brain from a neuroscientist, a powerful book written in everyday language.

Flute, Accordion or Clarinet? – Oldfield, Tomlinson, Loombe
Discusses a range of musical instruments and how they can be used in music therapy.

Presenting the Evidence – Ansdell, Pavlicevic, Procter
A practical down-to-earth guide to music therapy research.

How Music Helps – Ansdell
A wide-ranging summary of all kinds of music therapy information, case studies and further details.

Creative Music in Groupwork – Achenbach
Practical guidance for music with groups, from warm-ups to full activities.

Music Therapy with Children and their Families – Oldfield, Flower
Examples from a range of settings, vivid portraits of music therapy with family groups.

Dementia and music therapy

There are many documented cases where music impacts people with dementia, somehow re-awakening long lost memories.  It appears speech and music are handled by different areas of the brain, and songs learned early in life will be retained when other faculties have gone.  Here are just a few quotes from articles around this subject – and there’s much more to discover!

“I’ve seen many music therapy sessions where people who can’t speak still sing, or respond to a musical cue. The research we carried out in our homes along with Anglia Ruskin University showed music therapy bringing demonstrable wellbeing benefits for people with dementia. There’s even some suggestion that music therapy could reduce the need for medication.” – Ming Hung Hsu, MHA – Stimulating minds with music and memory

“It made me realise that people with dementia had a special ability to remember songs. Even if people with dementia can’t talk, they may be able to sing, whistle, clap or tap their feet. It helps them, and their carers, to feel life is worthwhile.” Quote on Age UK: Dementia and music

“The aim is to use interactive music and music therapy on dementia sufferers in order to help them maintain function, access memory and connect with those around them.” – article on New Zealand Herald

“My Mum’s communication improved around the time music therapy started. When she had had music therapy, she was different. She was lighter, she was engaged, she was doing something in life that she really enjoyed. She was just a different person, because she had had the therapy. She’s not agitated when she’s in therapy.” – Kathryne Cowhig, quoted on MHA Stimulating Minds campaign

What, no speech? How about music instead?

Imagine you can’t talk, you have no words to say, you don’t know if you could say them even if you were able.

But you can hear, you can feel, you can make sense of a happy tune, you can tap a rhythm and hear it echoed back to you.

In this way, you can communicate, you can influence someone else, and respond to them as they respond to you.

You can be loud and angry, or quiet and gentle, whatever you feel at that moment.  And then you can travel on a journey of sound as you play together, rising and falling in melody and tempo.

Music to help carers

Here’s something I hadn’t thought about very much before – how can music help the people who care for someone close to them?

Staff at Nordoff-Robbins recently studied this in relation to dementia, read further in the links below.  Stating the phrase “music therapy contributes to the support of carers’ needs”63% of family members agreed, with lower figures for staff and managers (much higher for music therapists).  This compares to 100% who agreed “music therapy is part of treatment and support” for their family member with dementia.

Depending how you view 63%, you may think:

A – it’s great that the majority of people think music therapy helps support carers!

B – why is the figure not higher, and why is it different between carers and therapists?

Music offers potential to move beyond awkward silences, to breathe new life into regular routines, and to give people a different way to relate to each other.

Imagine bringing together people with their partners or children in a fun informal music group, where they are each involved in making the music, singing the songs, beating the rhythm – so everyone has their part to play…


Music therapy – Caring for Carers – Nordoff-Robbins

Between practice, policy and politics: Music therapy and the Dementia Strategy

The ‘ripple effect’: Towards researching improvisational music therapy in dementia care homes


The power of playing music

Music is one of the two reasons I came to music therapy. The other is a desire to help people.

Those two can combine to provoke emotions or movement, where people create music together. That’s a key aspect of music therapy: it can be interactive, not just a one-way performance.  When people get involved in making music, it goes to a new level – beyond listening to ‘nice music’.

In fact there’s a whole range of music listening – compare each line in this list (some examples in brackets):

  • Hearing music in the background (eg: radio/TV)
  • Listening to music someone chose for you (eg: playlist/CD)
  • Listening to music you chose (eg: custom playlist)
  • Listening to music created just for you (eg: live musician)
  • Playing along with music created for you (eg: music workshop)
  • Leading the music by something you do (eg: music therapy)

There may be others too – different levels of hearing and listening, passive and active – and each example is not limited to that line.  For example, a radio DJ may play your favourite song – or a live musician may get you involved in their performance, singing with them or providing some rhythm.  Each of these could produce a special moment: a tear in your eye or a big smile on your face.

Imagine developing that special moment to build music that’s personal to you and enables you to communicate beyond words…


Mirror mirror…

Mirroring in music and therapy

In music you could mirror some notes, a phrase or rhythm – reinforcing a particular sound from the other person, letting them know you hear them, and allowing them to lead the music.

In therapy you may mirror a posture, action or behaviour – showing empathy for a person, being affected by them, gaining trust or even insight into their experience.

Mirroring can sometimes happen without you even realising it – the more aware you are, the more useful it can become.

In my reading about research I’ve come across countertransference, a Freudian phenomenon that seems like mirroring on a deeper level, something to look out for!


get insured!

As part of your studies and qualification in music therapy, you go on placements – and ahead of this you need professional indemnity insurance

It sounds daunting, but it can be taken care of pretty simply.  Be sure to do this well in advance of your placement – and let your educational establishment know too!

More about placements another time, hopefully with a diagram to show how all the pieces fit together :)

A couple of great online resources for music therapy

To kick things off, here’s a couple of websites I find useful – both based in North America:

Guitars and Granola Bars – Podcast, featuring interviews with music therapists, get an insider view of the job!

MusicTherapyEd – Website, with online courses and videos, learn from people already doing it.

plus, there’s a growing list on our page: ‘Sites and Blogs’