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  • McKay Campbell

Music therapy methods gain traction through local efforts

Various areas of mental health and disabilities can be treated using Music Therapy. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern University).

Music therapy has proven its benefits on mental health and human performance, but it is seldom considered a frontrunner to all other forms of therapy. Palm Beach County practitioners are working alongside researchers to give music therapy the acknowledgment it deserves.

Rachel Davis founded Songs of Life Music Therapy near the beginning of the pandemic. The board-certified music therapist runs her practice with the intention of reaching people of all demographics. Their office treats people facing mental health issues, adults facing addiction, children with behavioral needs, hospice patients and a myriad of other issues.

According to the American Music Therapy Association and the World Health Organization, there are several key goals of music therapy including “early diagnosis, optimized physical health, cognition, activity and well-being and detection and treatment of behavioral and psychological symptoms.”

The treatment potential for music therapy leaves no demographic unaccounted.

Davis said practitioners are particular about the definition of music therapy.

“For it to really qualify as music therapy, it needs to be an evidence-based use of music to

accomplish goals that are usually non-musical,” Davis said.

Local and national practices stress the importance of research when it comes to music therapy.

According to the Improving Access and Quality: Music Therapy Research 2025 Proceedings, in order for the profession to grow and achieve recognition, there needs to be a robust and varied portfolio of research.

Practitioners begin each session by assessing a client’s needs, strengths and goals. Then, they examine various research, many times from the American Music Therapy Association, and identify interventions that are clinically supported to serve those goals.

Davis said that each music therapy session is unique from its predecessor because of the broad range of demographics music therapy serves. For instance, a child on the autism spectrum will have a completely different session than an adult with mental health concerns.

Sessions can include a multitude of strategic musical therapies including songwriting,

creation of music using technology and instruments, or simply sharing music.

“Sharing or creating music can be a meaningful way to express experiences when words might not come as easily,” Davis said.

The more people are educated on the benefits of music therapy, the broader the demographics become. Mental health fields, addiction clinics, organizations serving children with behavioral needs and hospice services are all collaborating with music therapists to achieve patient goals. The comfortability of music creates a safe space and improves depression systems by lowering levels of anxiety.

“When we work with clients who have traumatic brain injuries, there is some evidence that music can help with those auditory-motor pathways and provide a reward for us,” Davis said.

Science shows that music alters our mood, Davis added. Practitioners use something called the ISO principle, which is the idea in if people want to feel a certain way or if therapists aim to bring clients into a certain mental space, it has to be done gradually. Upbeat music is not going to make angry clients feel validated in their feelings. It is a gradual path to stability when it comes to music therapy.

Erica Lyles, owner and director of Whole Vibes Music Therapy, began her clinic in 2018. Lyles travels to homes in Palm Beach County and on the Treasure Coast, in addition to her partnerships with a few different schools and a foundation that works with special needs and autism.

“Music therapy is the use of music and music intervention to help with a therapeutic goal – it is more than just playing music,” Lyles said.

While Whole Vibes focuses on special needs and autism, it still serves a wide variety of demographics. Music and music intervention work on the improvement of motor and communication skills. Children may come without the ability to speak, but through the use of instrumental therapy, they gradually gain not only verbal skills but social skills, as well.

According to a study titled “Interventions Targeting Sensory Challenges in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder,” the researchers found that in these small, short-term studies, outcomes on sensory-related measures and motor skills measures showed greater improvement in children when compared with other intervention methods.

Implementing live music, as well as singing, can aid in emotional regulation and behavioral support. Certified board therapists also use lyric analysis to help identify feelings and emotions. Breathwork and meditation along with music can be powerful, Lyles added.

“Music can stimulate the use of different hormones,” Lyles said.

Mood-boosting hormones such as dopamine and endorphins can be reached through these kinds of musical interventions, which aid clients in their counseling sessions. Because music is so familiar, it adds a certain comfortability factor that sets music therapy apart from other forms of therapy.

“We are everywhere, and the field is growing. We are recognized as a therapeutic profession in more and more populations now,” Lyles said.

Research proves music therapy is a viable option in the therapeutic field. Its unique treatment style is filling holes for those in need, where traditional therapy may be lacking.

By McKay Campbell

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