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The evidence on Music therapy

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Simra sitting next to her piano accompaniest singing

My name is Kate, and I am currently studying to become a Speech Language Pathologist. I am also a musician.  Since my parents sat me down at a piano bench for the first time at the age of 6, those 88 ivory keys have steered me through the rocky waters of life. As a super shy child, piano was how I was able to express myself and work through feelings I couldn’t produce the words for. My desire to improve my skills instilled in me ambition, persistence, perseverance, and maturity. In secondary school, I joined my school’s symphony orchestra, which become a strong supportive community that I so badly needed as a lost teenager.  Nowadays, the piano is my place of solace, where I return to time and time again when the pressures of rapidly approaching adult life become too much.

The way I see it, music is essential to our survival and development. From our very first heartbeat to our last dying breath, we are inherently rhythmic, musical beings. The ability to make music, along with language, is what makes us uniquely human.

Music has been a therapeutic and transformative force in my life and in recent years I have learned about a lesser known field that combines both my interest in health care and love of music: Music Therapy.

What is Music Therapy?

As with other traditional forms of therapy, music therapy is an established, evidence based, research supported profession that uses musical intervention to improve the physical, cognitive, social, and/or emotional well-being of individuals.

Music therapists are university trained health professionals accredited with the Australian Music Therapy Association ( Assessing each individual’s needs, therapists work one-on-one to identify and work towards personal improvement and goals. They incorporate a large variety of techniques in therapy sessions, such as singing, playing instruments, writing music, dancing, or listening to music. Therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, community centres, aged care facilities, early childhood centres, schools, and private practices. Music therapy is unique because it can benefit people of any age, disability, background, regardless of musical ability. In fact, anyone can benefit from music therapy.

There is abundant research showing music therapy is widely effective

The brain is complicated network of neural connections, with certain regions being more associated with certain functions, such as language, motor planning, sight, hearing, etc. The more these functions are activated, the stronger the connections become. In individuals who have acquired damaged to certain brain regions, such as those with acquired brain injury or those who have lost their sight, neural connections in regions are seriously weakened. However, the brain has the incredible ability to form new neural pathways to these regions. This is called neuroplasticity1, and we are just beginning to learn how it works and how to harness its potential for therapeutic treatment. Music is remarkable because it activates the visual, motor, and coordination areas of both hemispheres all at the same time2. By tapping into the brain’s neuroplasticity, music can help strengthen these connections and promote development.

It has long been used in helping children develop, and is very useful in Early Intervention. A 2014 scientific review of 431 articles looking at music therapy for ASD3 found that music therapy significantly improved the social interaction skills, social-emotional reciprocity, and communication skills of children with ASD aged between 2 and 9 years, although more research needs to be conducted on the long-lasting effects of music therapy in this population

Music therapy can also help adults, and has been shown to help with stress and chronic pain. A McGill University meta-analysis4 found that listening to music was more effective than prescribing drugs to reduce anxiety before surgery. Another study done in Singapore5 found live music therapy sessions gave palliative care patients relief from persistent pain. For people with mental illness, debilitating social isolation can be overcome through the social connection that music provides. Another scientific review6 found that music therapy has significant and lasting positive effects on global state, social functioning and symptom reduction for people with mental illness


Under the NDIS, music therapy can been included in individuals’ funded support plans.

Despite the benefits to us all of music, not everyone under the NDIS has access to music therapy. The therapy needs to be linked to stated stated goals and aspirations in the persons plan, and needs to be reasonable and necessary. For a child eligible for early intervention, this could be covered by a goal towards of social inclusion or capacity building. Part of the problem is that  there seems to be a considerable lack of awareness and access to music therapy services in Australia, despite it being an established and research supported profession.  A case study conducted by the University of Melbourne7 found that out of all the individuals interviewed in the study, none were able to identify music therapy service providers on their own. This stems partially from the geographic location of music therapists, but also doubts about the therapy’s effectiveness by those with the power to approve it in individual plans, despite the widespread evidence.

It makes sense that there would be skepticism by those who haven’t seen the power of music in action—after all, choosing “the arts” over traditional medicine is quite radical thinking. Over time we do believe that this views will change. 

We would like to share some success stories with you about the transformative power of music.

Take, for example, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords (, who remarkably recovered her speech through song therapy after a bullet to the brain left her in critical condition, initially unable to speak.

Or watch the video below to learn more about the case of Simra. She was born with the rare conditions Lebers Amaurosis and Joubert Syndrome leaving her with total blindness as well as having poor muscle tone, co-ordination and balance.

. Music therapy has helped her navigate her surroundings, control her body, and learn to speak.


A while back MyCareSpace posted a story about Andrew Hewitt. Andrew is an accomplished musician who has been drumming and teaching for 36 years. Andrew has cerebral palsy and started an international organization called Can-Do Musos, through which he continues to empower disabled musicians and to change society’s view of musicians with disability. Andrew also offers music therapy and drumming lessons in different settings. At this stage services are only available to people who self-manage under the NDIS. Get in touch with Andrew at: He has been dubbed as "Australia's most inspirational drummer", and is starting to become one of the most talked about drummers on the national and international drumming and disability communities. Andrew was also named #1 in The Eight Most Remarkable & Inspirational Musicians in the World - RAWRAMP magazine UK - Aug 2015


Here are some links to a few NDIS registered music therapy service providers listed on our portal:

When I am at the piano, there are no worries, no pain. Life feels as if it’s in perfect harmony, at least for a little while. I want others to have access to the therapeutic benefits of music. Why not explore this for yourself using the MyCareSpace search engine that easily allows you to find music therapy providers.





3 1Gold, C., Wigram, T., & Elefant, C. (2006). Music therapy for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004381. doi:DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004381.pub2.



6 Gold, C., Solli, H. P., Krüger, V., & Lie, S. A. (2009). Dose–response relationship in music therapy for people with serious mental disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 29(3), 193-207.

7 file:///C:/Users/Kate/Downloads/Music%20Therapy%20and%20the%20NDIS_White%20Paper%20(2)%20(4).pdf


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