Many of you might wonder how musical improvisation can help clients in counseling therapy. It's not everyday that you hear about a psychotherapy session that consists of playing xylophones, pianos, djembe drums, and singing freely. Most individuals would seem skeptical on a session that results in a jam session. However, there is a symbolic and specific purpose for the use of melodic and rhythmic improvisation during a therapeutic session. Each aspect of music including melody, timbre, tempo, and instrumentation can help the therapist as well as the client gain a greater understanding of the clients struggles. Dr. Kenneth Bruscia, founder of the PhD program at Temple University and Music Therapy witer/theorist developed an assessment tool in which all music therapists utilize called the Improvisation Assessment Profile or the IAP. The IAP analyzes all aspects of a clients improvisational music play and categorizes motivations under a specific musical attributes blanket. Aspects such as feelings, motivations, desires, energy, etc. can help a therapist analyze the scope or dynamic of a clients difficulty. Musical improvisation can lessen the anxiety of verbal expression in a therapy session and can serve as a motivation for a clients self-expression. Music improvisation also allows for non-verbal clients or patients to express themselves with out expressive communication lag. Music improvisation, although not using the IAP, can be a positive motivator for non-verbal clients to express themselves vocally. Vocal and rhythmic improvisation can improve communication goals including expressive communication, receptive and PECS communication goals (e.g., give-to-get), and social interaction/behavior goals.
If all of this sounds interesting, crazy, or confusing, you are not alone. But if you do have questions, please contact me through the website. I promise you, I won't make this topic too confusing.
Jeremy Edler, MA, MT-BC