Folk Musical Therapy Explainer / Disclaimer

Tim Murphey, April 4, 2014


The students writing these case studies are not licenced musical therapists or teachers; they are what I call Folk Musical Therapists who are teaching short songs for the joy of sharing and singing together. And yet, they can create great joy in their social networks through interacting with positive songs that are very “therapeutic.”


Some people hold that “all of life is therapy for the better or worse.” Your communications and interactions with others have an effect on their lives, just as they affect you. We might call this “folk” therapy. Some naturally smiling and gracious people spread happiness with little intention to, but nevertheless achieve a great impact. Some people unknowingly and without control spread bad feelings that can create further bad feelings in others. Understanding our impact on the people around us and the people we interact with is a humanistic imperative, in my mind.


Language and music are two systems that greatly intertwine with our communicative interactions with others. The field of “musical therapy” has many definitions for what it is and as Bruscia (1998) states: “We are and we will always be in the process of defining, for the answers to the diverse issues and questions raised here will always vary according to the definer and the context in which the defining takes place. … Thus, every definition is important because, when we examine how the definer has answered all these questions and challenges, we have an opportunity to broaden and deepen our understanding of music therapy”(p. 19). Then Bruscia provides a working definition, “Music therapy is a systematic process of intervention wherein the therapist helps the client to promote health, using music experiences and the relationships that develop through them as dynamic forces of change.”


Students in my university classes are not technically “therapists” but in the folk version of influence in chaotic networks everyone influences everyone else and thus we are all providing subtle forms of therapy whether intended or not. Asking my students to teach others in their networks some short positive songs (under the pretense of learning some English) has great potential for joyful play, positive connecting, and the learning of emotional control through songs. So I label this type of music therapy “Folk Music Therapy” which has parallels with mothers who sing to and with their children, with choirs and groups who sing together, and with our everyday selection of our audio-musical environments. The further task of teaching a friend or family member adds a socialization perspective that may be more helpful in many instances where a more “medical-pyschotherapeutic intervention” might be refused or unavailable.


Bruscia, K. (1998). Defining Music Therapy: Second Edition. University Park, IL: Barcelona Publishers.