Laura Mui, MM, MT-BC
Incorporating PLAY in Music Therapy Sessions
As a music therapist, I love working with children. For me, children bring a sense of wonder and authenticity that challenges me to be present and, at times, improvisational in how I address my client’s goals throughout the session. Over time, I’ve begun to embrace the playful moments in my session that promote imagination, creativity, and self-expression in my clients.
When appropriate, incorporating play within my music therapy session has been a huge game changer in meeting my child client where they are. Instead of dismissing opportunities for play, and rigidly sticking to pre-planned interventions favor of predictability, I invite you to consider these tips for incorporating play and enriching your sessions:
Taking a family-centered approach
Taking a family-centered approach might not be your dominant therapeutic approach when working with children. However, especially in the home setting, consider all the different relationships your client is connected to. Can positive relationships be fostered between siblings by offering opportunities for siblings to participate, and not necessarily in just a helper capacity? Can parents be empowered not only participate in the session, but to contribute their own unique perspective on their child and bond with their child without feeling judged?
Consider your setting
If you are doing therapy sessions in a client’s home, be mindful that you are entering the client’s safe space. While therapy is hard work, be mindful, that the child might be getting confused and withdrawn, if unfamiliar demands are being placed on them within a setting in which they might associate as their place of play, leisure, and relaxation.
It might be tempting to try out all your new and exciting instruments with your client, but don’t forget about what your child might already be comfortable with at home. Do they have a favorite stuffed animal or favorite toy? Are there certain routines at home that your client is used to that you can incorporate in your session?
Let down your guard
I’m the type of person that feels more stable and secure when I have a plan, but in letting my clients take the initiative in playing, I was able to see my client transform a buffalo drum into a boat with a stuffed bear to work on verbalizing the lyrics to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”. Another time, my client’s dad opened a bottle of maple syrup for my client to smell in order to increase his alertness, and suddenly, I was making up a song about making pancakes, using egg shakers to “shake” powdered sugar on pancakes and having my client’s younger brother be the “pancake chef”.
I hope that these tips become a good starting point for you in enriching your sessions with your kiddos! If you have additional tips on incorporating play in your music therapy session, leave them in the comments below!