Skip to main content

Music Therapy and Neuro-Rehabilitation

Music Therapists working in neuro-rehabilitation have witnessed time and time again individuals who have faced death and severe disability – using every ounce of their strength to recover physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally. The ultimate aim of music therapy, like all therapy in neuro-rehabilitation, is to help the individual take small and consistent steps towards their goals that often include returning to their home, quality of life activities, and getting back to satisfying work.

We recently participated in a HeadsUpCan panel and a familiar theme we have heard time and time again was shared: there is no cure-all solution. Every person will require diverse resources to heal from stroke, concussion and or acquired brain injury.  Person-centred care gives clients choice and an opportunity to be experts in their own life while harnessing the therapies that will best help them, and their loved ones, achieve their aims.

Here is How Music Therapists Can Help!

Working with anyone who has suffered an acquired brain injury knows it is sensitive work. The Music Therapist considers the whole person in every session:

  1. Who they Were. Using a music-based life review the Music Therapist will learn about the person in front of them and what was important to the client prior to their injury (many times with family and friend input).  These music-based anchors will then be used to support their client’s ongoing rehabilitation.
  2. Who they Are.  Music therapy sessions can address the needs of the client in the moment – where they are right now. Using a series of evidence-based techniques Music Therapists can improve the many injuries that may result from brain injury including impairment of: speech and language processing, physical abilities, cognitive processing, loss or disorganization of memory and emotional distress. 
  3. Who they Desire to Become. Music therapists often work with clients for many weeks and sometimes years. At some point a client will want to move away from thinking about a diagnosis, the hospital room and their injury 24/7.  The Music Therapist will support the client in developing new skills, strengths, thoughts, dreams and insights through songwriting, instrument exploration or new music.

Greg, a life-long athlete in his 50s had a major stroke that rendered him unable to walk or talk.  Still in recovery after 7 years, and still unable to walk unassisted, he was clear to convey that, “Music Therapy helped me find myself when so much of me was taken away. The music therapist helped heal my voice, my hands, and my heart.”

What is the state of music therapy in neuro-rehabilitation today?

In the early 1990s when JB Music Therapy began we had little quantifiable feedback about the global processes and plasticity of the brain. The fMRI machine was not widely accessible and most of the evidence of music and its effects were based on clinical evidence we were seeing in sessions. Today, Music Therapists are getting more funding, expanding on research and deepening their area of neuro-rehab specialties.  

We worried throughout COVID if our services would continue and be accessible, but have been encouraged by the continued interest and growth including new opportunities to co-treat with physiotherapists, social workers, intensive care teams and speech language pathologists as well as more opportunities throughout our community. Music Therapist and researcher, Felicity Baker, had incredible foresight over 20 years ago when she said – “We have gradually redefined music therapy’s position wihin the interdisciplinary neuro-rehab team.  Music therapy has come to be recognized as a therapy able to directly address the redevelopment of clinically meaningful functional skills, that can transfer outside of the treatment session.”

At JBMT we continue to review the latest research that will continue to inform our clinical work. One such example lead by Dr. Joke Bradt of the Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pa., carried out a Cochrane Systematic Review of music therapy in recovery from brain injury. Her research team reviewed seven studies involving 184 patients. All were controlled studies, meaning they compared music therapy against standard care. In one example, Music therapy (incorporating rhythm and movement, singing and the use of music listening, music improvisation and composition) improved walking speed by an average of 14 meters per minute, compared to standard therapy.”

In any given week JB Music Therapy sees 50 – 100 clients who have neurological impairment due to stroke or TBI.  We regularly observe:

  • rhythms that compel people to move.
  • tempos that regulate breathing and gait without heightening anxiety. 
  • new language sparked by singing.
  • moods regulated and lifted.

Music does more than just affect the physical, it can change the way a person views themselves and their world – from feeling hopeless to hopeful, from feeling weak to whole.

JB Music Therapy is fortunate to be connected to some very important organizations and leaders in the area of brain injury:

  • Learn about music therapy in neuro-rehabilitation here in Calgary. JB Music Therapy is honoured to participate in several research studies being conducted by Dr. Stephanie Plamondon.
  • Read the story of Brittany Lloyd and her music therapist, Andrea Curry and what has been happening for them over Brittany’s many years of participating in music therapy, after her head injury: Neighbours – Calgary Herald – Andrea Curry and Brittany Lloyd
  • Watch a video of using music therapy with persons with Brain Injury at ARBI (the Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured)
  • Contact JBMT to learn more about our sessions – including online sessions.

How can people find other music therapists in their area or online?

Canada –


Music Therapists around the world –