Music therapy is a professional discipline practised in over 40 countries of the world. Music therapists are trained and qualified professionals and, in most countries, professional bodies are responsible for recognising and accrediting the university qualifications received by music therapy graduates.
The music therapist uses improvised music, made up along with the client, and also songs, music listening and song writing as a means to achieve therapeutic ends. The music therapist assesses the benefits that the individual might receive from music therapy and then designs a programme to meet the identified needs. At appropriate points along the progress of the therapy, the music therapist undertakes evaluation of the development or improvement that has taken place and reports this back to other clinicians as well as to families where appropriate.
Music is a lovely medium with which to undertake therapy work because it can be used in gentle and non-intrusive ways. Music participation can foster feelings of success and well-being for people who, because of their disability, may have low confidence or low self-esteem. The music therapist works with a range of theoretical orientations and techniques to help people achieve their full potential, not just in terms of musical skills but in relation to social skills, learning, self-esteem and communication. The music therapist can play a part in a multidisciplinary team to help achieve best outcomes for people attending day services or special schools.
The attainment of musical skills over the early years is consistent among children and parallels development in other areas. For example, when children are learning the motor control for walking, in their musical play, they start to be able to co-ordinate their use of rhythm, to maintain a steady beat or pulse. Music therapists are aware of these musical milestones and have a role to play in assessing as well as developing these skills further (Daveson and Edwards 1998).
Skills that are needed in order to participate successfully in group activities can be supported in music therapy programmes, such as turn-taking, paying attention and staying seated (Davis, Gfeller and Thaut 1999). In addition, research studies in music therapy have shown that motor skills of clients with intellectual impairment can be improved through the playing of instruments (Boxill 1985; Moore and Mathenius 1987).
Music therapists also use music to practise themes used at school or the day centre context, or other important information such as learning road rules or personal care skills. Music is ideal for this work because there is a natural redundancy in music; in many songs lines are repeated over and over without boredom. Music therapists can also assist clients to use leisure time productively in music listening and music participation outside of the music therapy interaction.
In Ireland, music therapy training is undertaken through a two-year Masters Degree offered at the Irish World Music Centre, University of Limerick. This course has started with generous input and support from music therapy academics from the USA, Britain and Denmark and produced its first graduates in June 2000- Inquiries about the course or the use of music therapy with adults and children who have intellectual impairment or learning needs can be directed to: Irish World Music Centre, Foundation Building, University of Limerick, Limerick (Tel: 061-202917; email: email@example.com).