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The Principles of Music Therapy

The therapeutic use of music is guided by six principles:
  1. Intent
  2. Authentic presence
  3. Wholeness
  4. Preference
  5. Entrainment
  6. Situating the client
These principles facilitate the understanding of music therapy and its uses as a healing intervention.


The first principle, intent, ensures that clients are informed about the purpose of the therapy. This principle is critical because it allows the client to focus on the therapy, and it makes the second principle (authentic presence) easy to achieve. Intent gives the client an idea of what to expect during therapy and an anticipation of the possible outcomes.

An example of the principle of intent is a mother singing a lullaby to her child. The child feels the love in the mother's voice and he or she falls asleep. The intention here is loving. Intentions can also be aggressive, such as at a football match, when fans sing aggressive chants directed at an opposing team.

Authentic Presence:

Authentic presence refers to a nonjudgmental acceptance of the client as a unique individual. In authentic presence, the goal is to initiate a conversation without words but with music. This allows the mind, body, and soul to use the tools from within the client to release negative energy.


Wholeness recognizes the idea that a person can find balance with the environment to feel complete and whole. Music is used by the client to feel as one with the environment, which is necessary for the mind-body connection.


The principle of preference allows the patient to select his or her own music. This is important because, in order for the client to have a positive experience with music therapy, he or she has to be willing to be in the moment. Personal selection of music allows this to occur.


The fifth principle, entrainment, explains how the body organs become engaged simultaneously or synchronously with the music. This fascinating aspect of music therapy can be illustrated by measuring a client's heart rate during music therapy. Heart rate usually slows down or speeds up to match the tone and rhythm of music. This principle, in conjunction with the client's mood and emotional state, guides the choice of music to use.

Situating the client:

Situating the client is the last principle of music therapy. Prior to any use of music therapy, a proper environment should be set up. The environment should be quiet and properly lit and should contain a comfortable chair or bed for the client. A client can either sit or lie down, but he or she should be comfortable. Distractions should be removed, and the mood should be determined by the client's emotional state. The room should also be free from interruptions. An assessment is important prior to implementation of music treatment to address any complications, such as hearing difficulties.

Source: Holistic and Complementary Therapies

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