mental health music therapist

Music therapy in a mental health setting

Music therapy has been part of CHOC Children’s specialized therapeutic programming for more than 10 years. The program has grown recently, due to increased awareness of its effectiveness and a growing need among CHOC patients. We sat down with Kevin Budd, a board-certified music therapist in CHOC’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, to discuss the benefits of music therapy in an inpatient psychiatric setting.

Q: Music therapy is more than just listening to music. What encompasses this practice?

A: Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of musical interventions to accomplish individualized goals. This occurs within a therapeutic relationship between a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program, and a patient. During music therapy, we address physical, psychological, cognitive and/or social functioning challenges for patients of all ages. Essentially, we utilize evidence-based, musical interventions for non-musical outcomes; meaning music is the tool which helps support a patient’s non-musical need or goal.

Q: How does music therapy support clinical goals?

A: A patient’s clinical goal is the starting point for determining which musical intervention will be most effective. In the Center, these goals could include: mood regulation, self-expression, self-esteem, anxiety, interpersonal effectiveness, treatment motivation, positive coping skills, and more. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment when it comes to music therapy within mental health. We might work towards their goals several different ways, including: focused music listening, songwriting, song discussion, group instrument playing, music and relaxation, singing, and many others.

For example, if a patient’s clinical goal is to increase identification of positive coping skills, we might work on lyric analysis within the patient’s preferred style of song. We could discuss triggers, resilience, and negative life situations in the song. During this lyric analysis, I can help navigate the discussion to include the patient’s interpretation of the musician’s experience and how it might relate back to their own life. After this discussion, we could rewrite the chorus of the song including identification of a negative situation and a positive coping skill to help address it. The patients can then be encouraged to share what they created— by singing, spoken word, or other creative means.

Within this exercise, not only has the patient identified a negative situation and how to better cope with it within a creative medium, they have experienced the active utilization of a positive coping skill, built up confidence after completing and sharing their creation, felt more connected with others in the group due to being vulnerable and feeling validated, improved their mood from the positive experience, and formed a sense of increased treatment motivation.

Music therapists utilize assessment, treatment planning, and evaluation to determine whether a patient’s current methods of music therapy are meeting their needs. Without treatment goals, there could be no effective music therapy.

Q: What kind of impact have you seen in mental health patients who have participated in music therapy?

A: In any setting, music has an instantaneous effect on our bodies — mentally, physically and behaviorally.

Patients have shared several stories about how music therapy has helped them with their clinical goals. It’s amazing how one musical intervention can address multiple goals.

Sometimes it’s hard for patients to verbalize past trauma or express their current struggles. But with music therapy, they can discuss a song that may relate to their current life situation— whether that be bullying, family problems, feeling hopeless, having anxious thoughts, or another stressor. During this process, patients may be able to process and verbalize more, since the lyrics are an easier gateway for expression.

During group instrument playing, patients who might have difficulty with interpersonal relationships are able to cohesively and successfully play music together in a positive and supportive space without the need to talk.

During group ukulele playing, patients can work on distress tolerance and problem-solving skills while persevering through a challenging task — and by the end, they have improved self-esteem.

Q: What is unique about music therapy in an inpatient psychiatric facility?

A: Music therapy can look different in the inpatient psychiatric setting than in other areas of the hospital.

Within the Center, goals for music therapy are focused on combatting the reasons why a patient is admitted— these could include suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety or other factors that keep these youth from participating in a healthy way in daily life. The goal of the MHIC is to stabilize these patients and provide them with as many resources as possible to cope with their mental health challenges.

Music therapy does just that and provides opportunities for patients to learn, process, practice and discover new skills through tailored music interventions such as group instrument playing, songwriting, music listening, song discussion, beat-making, singing, rapping, and many other techniques. The MHIC offers opportunities for group work, that allows for a diverse group of kids and teens to come together and express themselves in a supportive, safe and validating environment. Individual music therapy sessions are available to patients in the Center who need additional one-on-one support to complement their other treatment.

Q: Why did you want to become a music therapist? Why a mental health setting specifically?

A: I’ve gone through my own mental health challenges throughout my life, and I always found that music validated my journey. Music helped me distract myself and process my feelings. Music met me where I was in the moment and gave me hope. It also gave me a platform to express myself in ways I didn’t know how to otherwise.

When considering career paths, I wanted to find a way to harness the role music had played in my life in a therapeutic way. After receiving my undergraduate degree in music, I developed a special interest where psychology and music intersect—the space where music therapy truly breathes. I pursued my graduate degree in music therapy, and then became a board-certified music therapist.

I feel humbled and fulfilled to be able to support kids and teens at CHOC with the tool of music. By creating an authentic therapeutic alliance, I can support them through a harsh and challenging time in their lives. I am thrilled to be on the front lines of the music therapy program at CHOC Children’s and I look forward to supporting its growth and success in treating pediatric patients.

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2 thoughts on “Music therapy in a mental health setting”

  1. Thank you for giving us some insight on Music Therapy at CHOC. Tailoring therapy to the needs of those in mental health, must be challenging, albeit rewarding. CHOC is lucky to have you. Is Music Therapy available to all patients?

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