Using Art in Music Therapy
by Emily Hammer, Music Therapy Intern
As music therapists, it is important for us to always strive to add variety within our sessions to keep clients engaged. Have your interventions been feeling repetitive or like they’re lacking an extra step? Something that has made my tried and true interventions feel refreshed is adding in an art experience to accompany them. If you’re looking to expand your repertoire of interventions or spice up your reliable ones, this read is for you!
Differences Between Art and Music Therapy
In this discipline, we know all too well the feeling of having our field misunderstood. This is a common experience amongst creative arts therapies like art therapy, dance therapy, and recreational therapy. Not wanting to further confuse the public about these disciplines, I want to take the time to differentiate between art and music therapy. Although art can be used as a helpful tool within our music therapy practice, this does not constitute our sessions as art therapy. In the same way, an art therapist utilizing music in their sessions does not make them music therapists.
Art therapy is “the use of artistic methods to treat psychological disorders and enhance mental health” (Stuckey, 2010). Art therapists are “trained in both art and therapy. The process isn’t an art lesson – it is grounded in the knowledge of human development, psychological theories, and counseling techniques” (Art Therapy Credentials Board, 2010).
This is very similar to how music therapy is defined: “Music Therapy is the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program” (American Music Therapy Association, 1998).
A few things art therapy and music therapy have in common are the communities they serve and the skills that they are able to address amongst those communities. The biggest difference between them may seem obvious; it is the means by which they achieve those goals that set the two apart. Also, art therapy is a Masters-level entry field and music therapy is an undergraduate or equivalency program field entrance (Cherry, 2012).
If your music therapy sessions are utilizing music for the majority of the time with art being an assisting tool, then you don’t need to worry about losing your credibility as a music therapist. In the same way, art therapists may utilize music in their sessions as a tool by playing music in the background to support the client. The main modality of treatment stays true to the therapist’s credential. In the creative art therapies community, it is important to keep our work separate while also being open to collaborating. There is so much good that can come from working within an interdisciplinary team amongst other creative art therapists. If we are able to support and build each other up, the communities we serve will see so much benefit.
Ideas for Music Therapy Sessions
Emotional Awareness Intervention
One of my favorite ways to introduce art into my sessions is accompanying an art experience with a Lyric Analysis. If there is a metaphor or theme you are exploring in a song with a client, is there a way that you could conclude that with an art experience? To give an example, I recently used the song ‘Crowded Table’ by the Highwomen with a client. In this song, the group is essentially singing about the things we have to do to cultivate a loving community of people in our lives. One line in the song talks about planting kindness and then reaping the benefits of that. So, to further expand on that idea I had us draw a seed and flower. In the seed we wrote a trait we wanted to ‘plant’ and in the petals of the flower we wrote the benefits of committing to that trait.
Coping Skills Intervention
Art can also be used as a helpful coping skill when added into a music experience. A very simple way that we can help our clients expand their tool box of coping skills is introducing them to drawing while listening to client preferred music. Something that has been enjoyable in sessions for me is to collaborate with a client to build a playlist of calming music that they can use in times where they feel dysregulated. Once we have done this, playing this playlist while free drawing a calming or abstract scene can be a great way to reset within a session or wrap things up.
Bodily Awareness Intervention
Another intervention that has proven beneficial with clients is to drawing how various emotions feel in our bodies. I will start by asking the client to identify a song that they feel evokes a certain emotion. After we have done this exercise with several emotions, I would present them with a visual of an outline of a body. We will listen to each of the songs they shared together while I prompt the client to draw how that emotion feels in their body. I will encourage the client to be specific in their color choice as well as the location in the body. This can be a useful intervention for emotion identification which in turn leads to more emotional exploration.
Benefits of Combining Art and Music Experiences
As we know, there are many benefits to using art and music in a therapeutic way separately. Imagine the benefits for our clients when we are able to utilize them simultaneously within our sessions! Some of the benefits of combining these mediums are increased cognitive functioning, critical thinking skills, improved choice making, attention to task, dual focus, communication skills, and self-expression (Pearson, 2010). Many of the goal areas that music therapists focus on can be enhanced by including art in our sessions. It is also exciting to see clients shine and express themselves in a new way we may not always be able to see.
American Music Therapy Association. What is Music Therapy? | What is Music Therapy? |
American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). (1998). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.musictherapy.org/about/music therapy/
Cherry, K. (2012). How art therapy works. Verywell Mind. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from
Home. Art Therapy Credentials Board Inc. (2000). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from
Pearson, K. (2020, August 4). 10 reasons why kids need art & music – art and music center:
Lessons for all ages. Art and Music Center | Lessons for all Ages. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.artandmusiccenter.com/blog/2019/4/23/10-reasons-why-kids-
Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010, February). The connection between art, healing, and public
health: A review of current literature. American journal of public health. Retrieved
February 28, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/
How do you use art in your music therapy sessions? What are your favorite activities?