The transformative power of music therapy in mental health care has been brought to light in a recent study published in the British Journal of Music Therapy. This research, led by Marie Strand Skånland and Gro Trondalen, was conducted within the context of Flexible Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) teams in Norway and opens up new avenues for understanding the therapeutic relationship and recovery process in mental health treatment.
FACT teams, a relatively novel approach in mental health care, offer community-based treatment focusing on comprehensive and continuous care for individuals with severe mental illnesses. The inclusion of music therapy within these teams is an innovative step, offering unique insights into the therapeutic process.
Skånland and Trondalen’s study identifies three core themes that characterise the therapeutic relationship in music therapy:
- Humanistic therapeutic relationship. At the heart of this relationship is empathy, unconditional positive regard, and a resource-oriented approach. Music therapists, through their empathetic and understanding nature, can tune into the clients’ emotional states, offering support that is sensitively tailored to their needs. This approach reinforces the clients’ sense of self-worth and helps build trust.
- Friendship-like relationship. This theme captures a more personal, less formal aspect of the therapeutic relationship. The mutual appreciative recognition and micro-affirmations foster a bond that often transcends the conventional therapist-client dynamic. This aspect is significant as it represents a shift towards a more egalitarian and humanised form of therapy, where clients feel valued and understood beyond their mental health issues.
- Musical relationship. Here, music acts not just as a medium of therapy but as a language of expression. Clients engage in a shared musical journey with their therapists, offering a means to express emotions and experiences that might be difficult to articulate verbally. This collaborative interplay establishes a unique, shared aesthetic experience, enhancing the therapeutic process.
The study underscores the potential of music therapy as a complementary approach to traditional psychotherapeutic techniques. This form of therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals who find verbal communication challenging. The non-verbal, expressive nature of music provides a safe space for clients to explore and express their emotions, aiding in the recovery process.
Despite the promising findings, the study also sheds light on the challenges faced in integrating music therapy into FACT teams. These challenges include logistical issues, a lack of awareness about the benefits of music therapy among healthcare professionals, and the need for more specialised training for music therapists working in mental health settings.
The implications of this study extend beyond the specific context of FACT teams. It contributes to a deeper understanding of the role of creative therapies in mental health care and highlights the need for a more holistic approach to treatment, one that recognises the value of alternative forms of expression and connection.
This study paves the way for further research into the impact of music therapy in various mental health settings. It raises questions about how music therapy can be effectively integrated into different therapeutic models and the potential long-term benefits for clients.