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Music Therapy for Writers: Q&A with Kimberly Sena Moore

How music can help writers—and their characters.

Kimberly Sena Moore

Today I'm talking with Kimberly Sena Moore, a board-certified music therapist, a mommy, and a soon-to-be-PhD candidate. (Woo-hoo!) She writes about music therapy and therapy business management through her blog Music Therapy Maven and about music for health and wellness through her PT blog Your Musical Self, so I decided to find out more about how music can help writers—and their characters! If you want to know more about Kimberly after reading the Q&A below, you can connect with her on Twitter at @KimberlySMoore.

Question: For those who don't know much about music therapy, could you give us a brief overview of what it is and who can benefit?

Kimberly Sena Moore: The formal definition of music therapy is as "a professional healthcare discipline that uses music and music-based experiences to target non-musical treatment goals in educational and healthcare settings."

In other words, we are board-certified therapists who use music to help optimize the quality of life for individuals, groups, and families.

You'll find music therapists in medical, educational, and everyday environments. Although a music therapist will specialize in a certain area, we can work "cradle-to-grave." You'll find music therapists in NICUs, school settings, medical facilities, mental health facilities, and hospices.

What's common with every music therapist is that we use music in our work. Whether it's incorporating rhythm to help a stroke survivor re-learn how to walk again or using songs to help a child with autism communicate with his peers, the use of music is what makes music therapy work. Music touches our brains and bodies in special ways, which is why it makes for powerful therapy.

Q: What is a typical music therapy session like?

KSM: This is kind of a trick question, because there really is no "typical" session! We use music is whatever way we can to best help our clients. This may include songwriting, playing instruments, singing, moving to music, analyzing song lyrics, or listening to music. Whatever type of music experience will target the goal we're working on? That's what we'll use.

Of course, music therapy sessions contain elements found in other types of therapy sessions. There's a music therapy assessment, treatment planning, and treatment evaluation. A single session may include transitions, verbal processing, and rapport-building. Sessions may last 30-, 45-, or 60-minutes and could be for individuals or groups. Your "typical" music therapy session will vary depending on the clinical setting and clinical population.

Q: Does one have to have any type of musical ability to benefit from music therapy?

KSM: Absolutely not! All music therapy sessions are "musician-proof." You don't need to be a musician—or have any type of musical training—to be involved in music therapy.

Q: Is there a particular style of music that is more therapeutic than others?

KSM: Not at all. A good music therapist will seek out and use whatever genre or style of music that will work best for the client. Children respond best to children's music, with its simple harmonies, easy-to-sing melodies, and structured phrases. Teens? Music generally plays a big role in their identity, so tapping in to that can be quite powerful. As for adults...generally, music therapists will try to incorporate an adult client's "preferred" music. Research shows that client-preferred music makes for more effective treatment.

Q: I know a lot of writers enjoy listening to music while they write—some even provide playlists for particular books to their readers! Why do you think music is so important to so many people?

KSM: I think there are many factors that contribute towards why music plays such a big role in our lives. From a science standpoint, music easily taps in to the parts of our brains that process memory and emotions. This is one of the reasons why music "sticks" with us and why we tend to have emotional reactions to music.

It's a great concept to incorporate playlists for particular books. People may not always remember what they read, but they'll remember how they feel. And research shows that music can modulate our feelings. Thus, music provides this backdoor access to our feelings, which can then enhance—even shape!—the reading experience.

Finally, many people have very personal connections and associations with certain music. Oftentimes, it's music from our teens and young adult years. As mentioned above, music plays a large role in helping us form our own identities as teenagers and that music continues to hold a special place in our hearts throughout our lives.

Q: Do you see music therapy as something that can benefit writers—whether to help them get in the mood to write, to help them block distractions, to address problems like writers' block, etc.?

KSM: There are definitely possibilities! For example, if you're stuck, take a 5-10 minute music listening break. Turn on a favorite tune and either sit quietly and listen, dance around to the music, or put pen to paper and freely draw while listening to the music. These types of creativity breaks could help you get your flow back.

As mentioned above, music does have a strong effect on our mood. You could use it in a targeted way to get yourself to a certain emotional place as you're preparing to write. There is no "right or wrong" music to use—simply listen to whatever song works to get you in the mood you want.

A final thought—if you have music playing while you work, I'd recommend choosing music without words. Once the brain hears words, it's language centers are activated. And you'll want those language centers for your writing!

Q: What are some myths about music therapy that you'd to debunk for writers who want to incorporate it into their stories?

KSM: The biggest myth is that music therapy is for entertainment. Not so! It may look on the outside like we are "having fun" during a music therapy session, but what you may not notice is all the therapeutic work that's happening. The fact that music therapy can be entertaining and fun is icing on the cake—it's not why music therapy works, but it sure makes our job easier!

Thanks again to Kimberly for stopping by! Readers: Do you incorporate music into your writing?

© 2011 Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD ♦ Psychology for Writers on Psychology Today

© 2011 Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD ♦ Psychology for Writers on Psychology Today

Want more information about getting the psychology right in your story? Get a copy of Dr. Kaufman's book, The Writer's Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior. More information is available on the book's website.

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