This whole pandemic has certainly changed much of life as we know it. The field of therapy, especially Creative Arts Therapy, has definitely felt it. We had to totally change the way we work in order to meet our customers online while the country was on home orders. As the states are now starting to open up, any in-person therapy we conduct looks very different. For this reason, you may be wondering what music therapy looks like during COVID-19.
At SoundWell Music Therapy, I always treat clients through teletherapy. Now that Colorado has lifted some of its restrictions, I am also offering in-person therapy visits to my office. This turned out to be more difficult than I thought as it forced me to re-evaluate how the clients and I can musically be in a therapeutic relationship together.
My clients and I now have different in-person restrictions than we do online. One of those restrictions during in-person music therapy during COVID-19 is that part of our faces must be covered. It can lead to the loss of some things in communication. At least when we meet online we can see each other’s faces and facial expressions. We can vocalize and sing from the comfort of our offices or homes.
While we could technically make music together online, it’s not the same as doing it in person, as there is often a delay in the sound and we don’t sync with each other. While making music together might be easier to do in person, it’s now a lot different.
Needless to say, in the days of COVID-19, music therapy changed. So what does it look like now?
In-Person Music Therapy Safety Precautions During COVID-19
One of the biggest things that has changed for SoundWell Music Therapy is the restrictions placed on us for health reasons.
Avoid spending time in the waiting room
To begin with, I encourage you not to come early. My office shares a waiting room with several other practices. The less time you spend there, the less your exposure to germs.
Face covering and physical distancing
Then there’s the fact that we have to wear masks and sit at least six feet away. In my office, there is just enough space for this to be the case. It also affects the way we make music together. For example, we can’t improvise together on the keyboard, even though one of us can still play.
Vocalization in music therapy during COVID-19
There is also the fact that we can no longer vocalize together because of the small respiratory droplets that are released into the air when we sing. Singing or speaking loudly increases the distance these droplets can travel. It is now recommended that people not only wear masks while singing, but be at least 12 feet apart.  So even with a mask, the risk is too great for us to be able to vocalize together, especially in such close quarters.
You may be wondering how to use your voice in music therapy during COVID-19. I know this has been a very important consideration for me because I believe that the voice is an incredibly powerful instrument and tool in therapy. What we can do is work together to find and create other channels for using music and written pieces to make your voice heard. I can also suggest vocal exercises and activities that you can do alone at home. These therapeutic “homework” may provide you with ideas that you may want to bring to our next session together.
Another restriction concerns the types of instruments we use to make music together. We’re limited primarily to percussion and keyboard instruments, all of which can be easily cleaned between sessions. But we can’t share instruments because I don’t want to take away your session time cleaning up.
Music therapy groups
We also cannot have music therapy groups in person. It’s disappointing because vocalizing and playing instruments in a group is one of the best ways to foster connection through music. However, even though the group dynamic is gone, we can still find ways to connect individually through the music. It is still possible to practice music therapy during COVID-19.
In-person interventions available at SoundWell Music Therapy During COVID-19
Restrictions aside, there are still a number of music therapy interventions that I can use for in-person sessions during COVID-19.
Playing instruments and musical improvisation
As I mentioned before, we use instruments in in-person sessions as long as they are easy to clean. The keyboard, hand drums and Hapi Drum, a very versatile steel drum with a grounding and soothing sound, are all instruments we can use in sessions together at SoundWell Music Therapy.
Listening to music
Another intervention that I use is listening to music. We can work together to create playlists that you can use to relax or exercise. Different types of music can work for motivation, and we create playlists for that. Recorded music can also be used for guided meditation. Here are some YouTube links for the guided meditations I recorded. You can find two here and here.
Although we have lost the ability to use our voices through music in person, we can still write lyrics. You can record yourself vocalizing / singing at home and introducing it into the session. This pandemic is forcing us to be creative in the way we use music. But music therapy is a type of creative art therapy. Creativity is the name of the game! It is still possible to practice music therapy during COVID-19.
Online music therapy during COVID-19
Since the pandemic hit, I have been able to switch programs to offer music therapy sessions online. Similar to the restrictions on the things we can do with in-person music therapy during COVID-19, there are also restrictions on what interventions I can use in the telehealth format. But again, creativity is the name of the game in music therapy during COVID-19!
When I do teletherapy with a client, we can vocalize together, which creates a connection. It also allows clients to use their voice to express themselves and heal.
The voice is powerful and can take the form of toning, chanting, mantras, and personal affirmations. It is personalized for you and your needs. In the online format, there is something about being able to do it on your own, guided by me on the other end of the screen, that feels liberating. It may sound different and less vulnerable than if we were to vocalize together in person.
Conversely, vocalizing can make a person vulnerable and you can mute yourself while vocalizing with me to feel safe when you need to. It can also lead to a feeling of liberation in that you can still vocalize as fully, deeply, and loudly as you want without worrying that someone else will hear you. (Unless, of course, you’re in an environment where there are other people in different rooms.)
Play instruments and improvise
Playing instruments from home, if you have them, is something we can incorporate into our sessions as well. A person may find strumming and calming, while talking about something difficult or painful, for example. Likewise, a person may find it clear to improvise a bit on the keyboard when they feel confused or unable to identify a feeling.
Listening to music and composing songs
Plus, we create playlists and write song lyrics, just like in person. We also use recorded music. These interventions are the same as what we do in face-to-face sessions. We just do them separately and share them in a different way.
Benefits of music therapy during COVID-19
There are a variety of benefits of engaging in music therapy during COVID-19. Two of the main advantages are that music can help you regulate yourself in the face of difficult emotions and that music can be used as a coping tool. Being able to self-regulate effectively and dealing with the various uncertainties that currently exist is essential to being able to manage your mental health and make sound, rational decisions. Using music to do these things can have the added benefits of helping you tap into your creative and expressive side or simply bringing more meaningful aesthetic experiences into your life.
Using music to self-regulate
Music regulates the body and therefore our emotions. Music soothes or energizes. In this time of COVID-19, where there is so much uncertainty about what is happening, it is important for us to have tools that can help us effectively self-regulate. Sometimes we need to be calmed down and other times we need to be energized.
Music helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system which calms and relaxes the body. Playing music that you find soothing or vocalizing by humming or singing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It is a way we regulate ourselves through music.
Music can also help with self-regulation by choosing to listen to music that is what you are feeling. Once you’ve validated your feelings and your experience has been adapted and supported by the music, you might want to choose a song that captures what you would like to feel. It is important to take note of your music listening experience (s).
Using music to cope
The state of the world at this time of COVID-19 is uncertain. This causes many people to experience increased anxiety and stress. People need to find healthy ways to deal with this increased stress and anxiety. One way to cope is music.
Music is a way of dealing with whatever is going on. Music brings back powerful memories, good and bad. It can help us gain valuable insight into our current situation. We use music to express ourselves and create new memories by making music or giving songs new meaning.
In addition to expressing ourselves through music, we use recorded music as a coping tool. Playlists are a great resource. We can create playlists to relax and calm down. You can use playlists to exercise, dance, clean, and do household chores. You can also use a playlist as motivation or to feel empowered.
And sometimes you might just need to enjoy the silence if you’re feeling overwhelmed or over-excited. I am fine too. Listen to what your inner wisdom tells you that you need.
Music as a source of stability
When it comes to using music to cope with whatever is going on in our lives, it is important to remember that music provides a sense of stability. It also creates a feeling of connection. Whether with your music therapist or with your partners, family members and friends, music connects us to others.
Music as a source of normality
Music also gives us a sense of normalcy during a time that feels anything but normal. Music is universal, we all listen to it and enjoy it. Everyone has their own kind of music that they listen to. Sharing music with others is a normal thing that we do in our daily life. We did this before COVID-19 and will continue to do so throughout our ‘new normal’.
Music therapy in the “new normal”
At SoundWell Music Therapy, I do everything I can to help you improve your mental well-being through music therapy. It might sound different, it might sound different, but this “new normal” we all live in too. The important thing is that we adapt and grow together.
If you are looking to expand your therapeutic horizons and explore music therapy with me at SoundWell Music Therapy PLLC, be sure to contact me. I offer a free 30 minute phone consultation during which we can talk more about your needs. You can plan here.