As a Music Therapist, advocating and educating people about Music Therapy remains an ongoing challenge in my profession. You may be familiar with Music Therapy and perhaps you or a family member receives it, or you may never have heard of it at all.

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music as a therapeutic means to address cognitive, emotional, physical, social and spiritual needs. Music therapy is delivered by an accredited Music Therapist with the goal of improving quality of life for those who are well and to meet the needs of those living with disabilities or illnesses.

dsc_0323Who is Music Therapy for?

Everyone. Music Therapy does not require the client to have a musical background. Music Therapists are trained to use music as their tool to achieve therapeutic goals. For example, a Music Therapist who is working with a depressed or anxious client, may find that their client prefers to close their eyes and described how the music being played is affecting them. Alternatively, the client may want to explore their thoughts and feelings through the use of music improvisation. They might choose a drum, a xylophone, or any number of instruments they feel could help them release or confront certain issues or feelings. A Music Therapist who is working with a child with ASD may use music to increase the child’s ability to perform certain tasks, learn important skills, control maladaptive behaviours, and encourage self-soothing/anxiety reducing behaviour. The examples above involve both active and receptive forms of music therapy.

What is the difference between receptive and active music therapy?

Active Music Therapy encourages the client to play instruments (often improvisation), sing, song-write, or engage in a musical activity that requires their input. Active Music Therapy is widely used in Music Therapy practice with many different populations. Children in educational settings might be challenged to work on certain goals through dancing to rhythm and music, singing, instrument playing, and musical games. Active Music Therapy with teens and adults, involves musical interventions and activities that are tailored according to need, age and ability level of the client.dsc_0251

An Active Music Therapy session can include:

  • Singing or playing along with instruments to client preferred music
  • Musical games that target physical, social, emotional, cognitive goals
  • Song writing
  • Group drum circles
  • Instrument improvisation
  • Moving / dancing to rhythmic patterns or music
  • Adapted music lessons

Receptive music therapy involves the client listening to music, responding silently, verbally, or in another manner. The music used may be live or recorded improvisations, styles, and genres of music (rock, country, pop, jazz classical etc). According to Bruscia (1998), the listening experience may centre on “physical, emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual aspects of the music” (p. 120-121). Clients who have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, can still respond to the experience in their own way. A client may smile, laugh, cry, move, or may begin to relax and find relief from tension, pain, or anxiety.

There are many ways to provide a Receptive Music Therapy experience. Some include:

  • Music relaxation for children and adults
  • Guided Imagery and Music – the therapist assists the client in reaching a deeply relaxed state, carefully chosen recorded music is played, and the client responds to the music by describing what they feel, see, or experience thought the music
  • Song listening, analysis and discussion – which includes song reminiscing to promote personal reflection and discussion
  • Music appreciation – the therapist works with the client to encourage their understanding and appreciation for the music itself
  • Music collage – creating a piece of artwork that is inspired by listening to music


parent totIn summation, Active Music Therapy occurs when the client is actively engaged in the music making process through physical movement, playing an instrument, singing, or creating songs. Whereas Receptive Music Therapy requires the client to listen, absorb, reflect upon, and respond to the music in a way that is suitable to their needs.

Do you have questions? Do you want to learn more about Music Therapy and how it can boost wellness? Email Elle:

Written by: Elle McAndrews, MTA, MT-BC




Bruscia, K. (1998) Defining music therapy. Phoenixville, PA: Barcelona