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How to Support a Loved One in Music Therapy

November 7, 2017

If your loved one is in music therapy, you might be wondering what you’re supposed to do. Many people see therapy as an intensely personal endeavor, so you might feel a bit weird asking about it or offering support. Even then, how exactly do you go about supporting them? What can you possibly do? It turns out there’s a lot you can do to help them get the most out of their therapy.

Participate with them

Because music therapy encompasses so many different activities, your loved one might be learning to play an instrument, composing music or lyrics, or even just listening to specific types of music. Outside the therapy setting, you can participate in ‘off-time’ activities, such as sitting with them quietly while they listen to music, or even playing an instrument with them. As a side effect, you’ll experience some of the same benefits, such as lower blood pressure or better overall mood – and who wouldn't appreciate that?

The Gift of Time

Work, parenting, home life, and a hundred other things can make relaxation time difficult or even impossible. If you can help out with the kids, housework, or time-consuming chores a little more than normal, that offers them additional time to practice their instrument, take a relaxation timeout to keep their stress levels down, or just take a quick mental break. The flip side of that is your attitude – it can be really frustrating to feel like you’re ‘picking up the slack’ or taking on the lion’s share of responsibilities while your loved one goes off to listen to music and ‘do nothing.’  Keep in mind that you’re not only investing in their health, but you’re creating an environment where healing can occur – and remember to take time for yourself as well.

Be Available to Them

With all the extra chores or errands you might be doing to help out and offer your loved one time, you might be thinking that having to be available too is impossible. What we’re talking about is being emotionally available, and ready to listen. As your loved one works through their experiences – both those from therapy and those that caused them to seek therapy – sometimes those experiences and related feelings come out at odd times. Listening means that you’re willing to hear them if they need to talk – no judgment, just letting them process out loud as needed while you offer love and support.

Offer to Attend Therapy

This one can be a bit tricky. Most therapists are capable of working with individuals and families equally well; there are benefits to being privy to how your loved one’s therapy is going, and perhaps even get specific strategies from the therapist about how you can help them at home. You need to also be aware, however, that therapy is meant as a safe place for the individual away from other life factors. It’s up to your loved one – with some guidance from their therapist – as to whether it will help them for you to attend a session. Above all, understand that your loved one may not be open to the idea; don’t take it personally. Be supportive of their decision to attend therapy, and ask them how you can better support them in other ways.

Encourage Positive Activities

Even if you’re not involved with the therapy at all, you can help by encouraging good habits and offering positive feedback for constructive activities. Invite them to go for a walk with you, support efforts to eat a healthy diet, and keep a solid routine when it comes to sleep. If they’re spending a lot of time discouraged or engaged in unhealthy habits, encourage them in a positive way and invite them to do more constructive things with you. Don’t nag or scold them, though, and don’t push them to do things you’re not willing or able to do yourself.

Don’t Give Up – and Take Care of Yourself

Helping a loved one with a traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, or other “invisible wound” can be a difficult, even draining experience – especially if you have children at home, aging parents, or other relationships that require a lot of your energy.  Make sure you’re eating right and getting good sleep too, and give yourself permission to rest or take some ‘free time’ now and then to do an activity you enjoy.

Both of you are bound to get frustrated; it’s both normal and okay. Don’t give up! It can and will get better over time as your loved one succeeds in therapy, and you learn how to best support them. In time, they’ll be able to offer that support back to you.  In the meantime, make sure to take care of yourself as well. It’s okay to need a break – and to take one.