No Therapy Is An Island

You’ll hear music therapists tell you time and time again, “Music therapy is an EVIDENCE BASED field!” What we do it backed by empirical research, and we’re very proud of this fact. However, the fact that the field is supported by research showing the efficacy of using music as a therapeutic tool for accomplishing non-musical goals does not make music therapy a lone-ranger in the world of therapies. There’s a key phrase I used in the previous sentence: “non-musical goals”. This means that the goals we are addressing in music therapy are similar to the goals our client’s are working on in their other therapies (speech, occupational, physical, behavioral, and cognitive rehabilitation therapies, etc.). So, in the Neurologic Music Therapy branch of our field, in particular, when setting up our interventions for addressing a non-musical goal, we like to use a model called the Transformational Design Model (TDM).

Transformational Design Model! It sounds like a superpower. And in a way, it is. It’s the superpower model that transforms non-musical interventions into musical interventions. Because music therapy has the same functional structure as other therapies, music therapists use this model to see where the overlap is with other fields, and then how the addition of music to a treatment intervention can benefit the client. But wait, there’s more! This superpower model transforms the functional music intervention into functional, non-musical real-world application. In short, we’re not going to let you walk around singing the steps to making conversation. We’re going to help you generalize the information you learned through music, so that when you apply it to everyday life, you’re doing it in a socially acceptable and sustainable (functional) way.


I know you’re dying to find out how one mere mortal can acquire such a superpower. Well, lucky for you, we can let you in on the bare bones of the model. I take myself through these steps every time I develop an intervention for a client, and it helps ensure the quality and efficacy of my interventions. Ok, are you ready to be transformed?

  1. Asses the client’s strengths and needs
  2. Develop the goals and objectives
  3. Research how a non-music therapist addresses this same goal and design a functional non-musical intervention
  4. Translate step 3 into a functional musical intervention
  5. Transfer step 4 to functional, non-musical real-life application

This model is a superpower not just in the fact that it transforms a non-musical skills into a musical experience and then back into a non-musical skill, but also in the fact that it allows multiple therapeutic fields to see their overlap. The more therapists from varying fields can work together, the more well-rounded the treatment plan becomes, and the more the client will benefit. Go transform something!


The Transformational Design Model

What is the Transformational Design Model?
Also known as the TDM, the Transformational Design Model is an assessment procedure that is used by many music therapists. There are a series of steps that the therapist goes through as they are assessing the client that ends in determining goals and interventions that are best for that client. It is a system that basically translates scientific methods into real-life functional use. It helps music therapists take non-musical therapeutic exercises and turn them into musical exercises, and then take those exercises and turn them into real-life every day skills that are functional.
Why is it important in the practice of music therapy?
-Helps plan goals that are relevant to the clients’ needs
-Helps make sure the goals and objectives are musical
-Helps generalize interventions into everyday functional application
-Allows music therapists to work with and share with other therapists
-Ensures patient centered instead of discipline centered programs
-Give clients quality service

Mary Jane


Word of the week: Function

As a music therapy student and intern, I am constantly learning how to defend and validate the profession. In his book, Rhythm, Music, and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications, Michael Thaut discusses the Transformational Design Model (TDM). This model is a way for music therapists to validate the interventions planned, by looking at the specific clinical function. Thaut mentions the two main mistakes music therapists often make when planning interventions: creating an activity-based approach where generic musical activities are adapted for different populations, and therapeutic music techniques applied to reach broad, general goals. Beginning with a diagnostic assessment of the client’s needs and goals, the TDM uses an “upside-down pyramid” technique, with each consecutive step becoming more specific. By utilizing the TDM, music therapists can more effectively treat their clients by gaining a better understanding of each intervention’s specific function. I hope to make it a habit to regularly use the TDM in my intervention planning!