According to the American Music
Therapy Association (AMTA), music can promote wellness, alleviate pain, help with the expression of feelings, aid in enhancing memory, improve communication, and even promote physical rehabilitation. If music can aid in the improvement of these categories when working with individuals, is it possible music can do the same for families in therapy?
In an article titled, “Interactive Family Music Therapy: Untangling the System” written by Joanne McIntyre, she suggests music has a variety of potential therapeutic benefits for families. In my experience with my own family, communication barriers are present, especially when trying to appropriately express or explain emotions with each other. Is it possible people can communicate with each other through music? Interventions such as lyric analysis, songwriting, and improvisation aid in the process of communicating with others. Have you ever listened to a song in which the lyrics made you feel like someone understands you? Do you have that one song you go to for emotional support? When a family listens to a piece of music together, with the focus being on the lyrics rather than the emotions and challenges within their unit, a safer and more supportive form of communication may occur. The relaxed, nonthreatening, and soothing atmosphere created by music allows ideas and feelings to be communicated more freely (Decuir, 1991).
When we communicate with others, there are overt or out in the open messages, and covert or hidden messages that can be open to interpretation. In my experience with music improvisation, replacing verbal messages with musical messages can provide insight to the family and the therapist. Observing how a family creates music together can help gain information regarding the family’s process when interacting with each other without the temptation of focusing on the content of their interactions. According to Miller (1994), musical instruments typically evoke interest and curiosity. Children tend to be attracted to musical instruments and like to explore them and while adults may be more reserved, they too are often drawn toward instruments and may comment on them or casually brush or touch them. Miller (1994) further explains, that music offers another neutral context with which to assess family members’ relationship through the element of rhythm. It is possible that through active music making, a therapist can gain useful information about family roles and their communication patterns without having to force verbal interactions.
Overall, little research has been done regarding the use of music within family therapy sessions, but the benefits seem clear. The collective process of making music may provide more immediate access to family processes than words. The issues surrounding some family systems are often complex and, at times, words may fail to express the depth of a family member’s emotions. Music that is melody harmony, and rhythm, can provide a more immediate route, both to connection and to the processing of these issues (Hilliard, 2003).
Music is a universal language that brings people together. Music is a natural form of support that can become part of one’s coping skills toolbox. Music can bridge the gap between communication barriers. As Hans Christian Anderson quotes, “Where words fail, music speaks”.
Decuir, A. (1991). Trends in music and family therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 18, 195-199.
Hilliard, R.E. (2003). Music therapy in pediatric palliative care: A complimentary approach. Journal of Palliative Care, 19(2), 127-132.
McIntyre, J. (2009). Interactive family music therapy: Untangling the system. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 30(4), 260-268.
Miller, E.B. (1994). Musical intervention in family therapy. Music Therapy, 12(2), 39-57.