What Does Telehealth Music Therapy Look Like?
by Taylor Cockrum, MT-BC
Over the past couple of years, our world has become increasingly more familiar with video calling. Meetings and appointments are often carried out online rather than in person, therapy included! So what does therapy – specifically music therapy – look like via telehealth? How does that even work?
I’ll admit that I was once among those who were hesitant about virtual music therapy services. When the pandemic started, my coworkers and I were caught at a standstill. We were very unsure how we were going to continue seeing our clients to provide music therapy. Now, virtual music therapy sessions are the only type of sessions I provide! Not only do my clients continue to experience progress and benefit from telehealth music therapy, but I actually enjoy being a telehealth music therapist.
Let’s take a look at the basic requirements you need in order to participate in telehealth music therapy:
First and foremost, you will need a device with a working camera and reliable internet. This device could be a desktop computer, laptop computer, a tablet, or even a phone! If you want to get fancy, you could use headphones or a desktop microphone for sound clarity, but this is not usually required as most devices have sufficient microphones.
TIP: You may be able to access a device for free at your school, office, or even your local library. Just be sure to ask for a conference room, Zoom room, or another quiet space so that you can protect your confidentiality and fully enjoy your session.
Your board-certified music therapist will use a HIPAA-compliant video platform such as Zoom, Google Meet or Doxy.me. They will most likely text, email, or send you a calendar invite that contains a link to your session. You may want to click that link a few minutes in advance, just in case you are prompted to download any apps or updates. Many links will open in a browser, though!
Depending on your support needs, you may ask a friend, family member, or a paraprofessional to be present for your telehealth music therapy session. If you need hands-on support for physical needs, communication, or any other reason, it may be beneficial for this person to remain nearby to assist throughout the session. Tasks they could possibly assist with include setting up the device, logging onto the session, adjusting volume controls, ensuring the camera is angled toward you, or retrieving musical instruments or other supplies, among other things. This person can also get you set up and then leave the room until your session is complete.
TIP: Your therapist wants to see you! You should be centered in the screen from waist to chest up where we can see your torso, face, and arms. Sometimes furniture, wheelchairs, or the space in an environment can make this tricky, so obviously there are exceptions.
If your support person remains in the room, many telehealth music therapists are comfortable speaking to and directing support persons as needed (e.g., “Hey John, Miss SuzAnne is going to hold up a shaker and a bell. Reach for the one you want!” Or, “Miss Karen, will you move Jessica’s camera to the left so we can see their face more clearly?”) If you do not want your music therapist to speak directly to your support person, definitely let them know! We’re there to support you and honor your autonomy.
During telehealth music therapy sessions, your board-certified music therapist will do almost anything that they would do in person with some modifications. You will likely experience the therapist playing live, client-preferred music via guitar, ukulele, or keyboard, while encouraging the client to participate. Participation varies depending on your goals and objectives, but could include: body percussion (clapping, patting legs, snapping), playing instruments (we sometimes mail our clients a few instruments if there are none at home, but don’t be afraid to get creative! Keys jingle, spices shake, and bowls make great drums!), singing along, and discussing music. Music therapists may also use visuals, videos, recorded music, books, puppets – you name it – to maintain engagement and optimize benefit. We may even compose songs with you! We often use shared screens to compose lyrics, lay down some tracks in GarageBand, or to play around in Chrome Music Lab together.
Depending on how your sessions are funded, you may be asked to sign a document or send an email or text confirmation each week confirming that your music therapy session took place via telehealth. Your therapist will help you navigate that if it applies to your situation (looking at you, CLASS Medicaid Waiver of Texas!).
While there are obvious differences between in-person and telehealth music therapy services, music therapists have grown and expanded our virtual repertoire to accommodate and benefit as many people as possible over the past few years. However, we do recognize that teletherapy is not appropriate for everyone. The most common limitations we have run into include poor internet connection due to geographic location, limited access to private spaces for sessions, and necessary support persons being unavailable during session times.
During the height of the pandemic, Heart and Harmony Music Therapy was exclusively providing telehealth sessions for a full year with hundreds of client sessions each week. We were pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming flexibility and positive responses from our clients and their families! Sure, things look a little different in a post-pandemic world, but music therapists are trained to be adaptable and provide the most supportive environment possible to reach client improvement and success. Telehealth music therapy is a viable option for many clients, making music therapy more accessible than ever.
What’s your favorite activity in your telehealth music therapy sessions?