Social skills are an area of interest for many therapists and their clients. Not only are social skills a vital area of development for children, adults may still be working on developing these skills as well. In later years, or perhaps in the case of people with dementia, well developed social skills may decline creating a need to increase and/or maintain socialization. Whatever the age or developmental stage of the person, social skills are an important and unavoidable component of day to day living.
Music therapy can be a wonderful aid in developing or maintaining social skills. There are 4 main reasons to consider:
1. Motivation- I have mentioned numerous times in my posts about the power that music therapy has on motivation. Mainly because it is true and so very important, especially when working with people who have trouble being motivated in other therapies. Music has this familiarity to it which sucks people in. People are usually very comfortable in discussing music, especially their own preferences, and that is just the start! Talking about music, listening to music, playing instruments, writing songs… these are all examples of how one can be motivated in a music therapy session to engage in an experience focused on addressing social skills.
2. Participation- Closely related to motivation is participation. Once the motivation is set then the participation will follow. Consider an elderly woman in a nursing facility who has begun struggling with dementia. She has begun to isolate herself in her room and rarely socializes with others due to her fear and uncertainty, until one day she hears the music therapy group down the hall. Curiosity strikes as she hears an old favorite song which motivates her to leave her room and investigate. Shortly after seeing how much fun the participants are having she decides to take a seat in the back of the room…just to listen. The following week she decides to join the group… just to listen. Before you know it she is an integral part of the group as she is now participating in singalongs and playing instruments which has greatly reduced her isolation and given her courage to be around others again. Not only is she participating within the group, but she is interacting with others during the process. Musical interventions can easily be designed to be a interactive process where the people must interact with each other for the intervention to be successful. Therefore the music therapy group is aiding in socialization in two main ways: participation simply by being present in the group, and participation by interacting with other individuals in the group. Once motivation and participation are in place, an array of social skills can be addressed.
3. Non-Threatening Atmosphere– Music therapy has this wonderful main component…Music! Fortunately, music usually comes across as non-threatening and in turn creates an inviting atmosphere for those who are to be engaged (refer back to the elderly woman example). In addition, music therapists are excellent clinicians when it comes to making sure the atmosphere is set up for non-musicians to be instantly successful, thus furthering this non-threatening atmosphere. Imagine a person whose anxiety level is so high that they cannot bring themselves to verbally participate in group therapy discussions. Now let’s put that person in a musical situation where only instruments are used among the group. The voice is removed from the equation, yet self expression and participation within the group is still encouraged. This automatically creates a safer environment for the person to begin socializing in a musical way, which may open the door for them to begin socializing in a verbal way down the road. Music in itself is a form of expression which is why it is so useful in therapy to work on social skills regarding communication and interaction with others.
5. Discipline and Rule Following- Often times deficits in social skills are in the form of inability to follow/listen to directions, short attention span and interacting inappropriately with others. Music therapy can aid in all three of these areas very well. Let us imagine an adolescent with behavior problems including the aforementioned. By participating in a rock band group this person is expected to follow/listen to directions, utilize attention span and interact appropriately with their peers in order to be a part of a team to create a final musical performance. It is not the performance the therapist is working towards, it is the components that make a performance work that are of interest. If the adolescent does not follow cues to play when it is their appropriate turn, the music will not sound right or pleasing to the ear. Attention span is required to know when to play and if he or she does not participate appropriately with the others in the group, privileges will be lost. And trust me, adolescents can be quite motivated with rock band instruments which ties the whole idea back to reason #1. The beauty of this set up is that often peer pressure plays an important role in encouraging the proper social skills as the adolescent does not want to upset the other band members… low and behold another social skill being addressed! 😉
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social skills and how music therapy can help, however these four reasons are the main indicators that music therapy may be useful for you or your loved one. If the person is struggling with motivation, participation, is threatened by the therapy scene, or is struggling with behavior issues that lead to improper social skills, then music therapy may be something to consider.