Music Therapy Supports Mental Health Recovery

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Board-certified music therapists are ethically bound to provide evidence-based practice. Within evidence-based practice are three areas of consideration: the best available research, clinician expertise, and client values. This article explored client values as they relate to music therapy in mental health, particularly clients’ perspective on recovery. The findings, in addition to the authors’ philosophy, suggest the efficacy of implementing a recovery-oriented practice in music therapy. This study defined recovery as:

A deeply personal, unique process of changing one’s attitudes, values, feelings, goals, skills, and/or roles. It is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life, even with limitations caused by the illness, recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness (p. 246).

This article described a qualitative synthesis of 14 studies with a total of 113 participants, examining clients’ experiences in music therapy. The study synthesized direct quotes from clients into four areas of experiences: 1) having a good time, 2) being together, 3) feeling, and 4) being someone. To elaborate, having a good time through engagement in music contributes to various aspects of wellbeing, and promotes meaning in present life and hope for a future life. Being together with other people, in the clinic, in the community and in everyday life, provides arenas for engaging in processes of social inclusion. Experiencing and expressing emotions (feeling) through music facilitate wellbeing in one’s emotional life. Strengthening the feeling of being someone through an environment where strengths, interests, and talents could be explored, used, and flourished, promotes experiences of mastery and a stronger and healthier identity.

The authors also highlight a contextual and social approach in recovery, focusing on social relationships, social roles, and social inclusion. The authors advise music therapists to develop a strength-based approach to music therapy. This approach assumes that people with mental illness are “experts by experience,” and places value on clients taking an active role in their own recovery processes, rather than holding a stereotypical view of therapists as “experts” and clients as passive “recipients” of a prescribed treatment. This perspective challenges a traditionally pessimistic outlook on mental illness by empowering clients to play an integral part of their recovery.

This article can deepen music therapists’ understanding of evidence-based practice in regards to clients’ values. Music therapists working in mental health can incorporate the concepts of 1) having a good time, 2) being together, 3) feeling, and 4) being someone to create meaningful experiences in music therapy. Practical tips suggested by this writer include:

  • Involve clients in the development of their music therapy goals when possible
  • Structure music therapy sessions to include opportunities for client decision-making and control
  • Maintain a view that clients are “experts by experience” and be willing to collaborate with clients through the music therapy process
  • Emphasize enjoyable experiences, social inclusion, exploring clients’ emotions, and clients’ individuality within sessions


By Sara Richardson, MT-BC

Solli, H. P., Rolvsjord, R., & Borg, M. (2013). Toward understanding a recovery-oriented practice within mental health care: a meta-synthesis of service users’ experiences. Journal of Music Therapy, 50(4), 244-273.