The Anatomy of a Music Therapy Goal

One of the defining characteristics of music therapy that separates us from simply "music AS therapy," is the fact that we have non-music goals for clients that we collect and track data on. It's fundamental to what we do, and something you spend a great deal of time and effort on in college and internship to try and master. Some are certainly better than others at this skill, but we're always improving.

So what does a music therapy goal look like? Let's take a look at the anatomy of a music therapy goal.

Typically, we want our goals to be S.M.A.R.T., which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Limited.



Objectives for music therapy need to hone in on a specific skill or area of deficit in order to be effective. We typically general, long-term goals, and specific, time-limited objectives. Objectives should be the specific steps that must be completed in order to complete a long term goal. For example, if our client is learning to feed themselves, our goal might state that the "Client will improve self-feeding skills." However, this is not specific enough, so our objectives might read "Client will hold stick (representative of fork) for 15 consecutive seconds at a time without assistance," along with the other specific skill necessary for one to feed themselves.



This can get tricky. Music therapy objectives must be measurable. How else are we to show that what we're doing is effective and worth the investment our clients are putting forward?

Some skills are easily measured. Stride length, length of attention, ability to complete academic tasks, etc. However, some are more difficult to quantify. Mood, decreasing anxiety, behavioral goals, etc. In those cases, we might rely on self-report ("Client will decrease anxiety/depressed mood as measured by a pre and post-session self report") or in the case of behavioral objectives, the level of prompting (how many times the client was given an instruction before completing, or how much assistance he or she needed) the client needed to complete a task ("Client will follow a two step direction with fewer than 3 prompts").



The purpose of therapies, of any kind, is to move a client to the highest level of independence they can possibly achieve. But this is a process, not a race. Therapy takes time. Therefore, objectives must be written so that they are just out of reach of the clients current level of functioning (to facilitate growth), but they also need to be "in their wheelhouse," so to speak. It must be something that the client is capable of achieving. Otherwise, we risk drilling something that is "too much, too soon" and leaving both the client and therapist frustrated and burned-out.



Similar to "Attainable," our objective must be realistic in scope and time frame. Typically, our goals are written in six-month intervals. We must examine these objectives and ensure that they can realistically be achieved in this time frame.



This is a biggie. Our goals and objectives must be time limited in order to keep us on schedule and accountable. If our goal for a client is to improve fine motor skills, that's all well and good, but...when? How are you to know if this goal has been achieved or not?

We need to set a time limit. "By September 2013, the client will..." Otherwise, we're just kind of floating along aimlessly, not knowing if we're achieving what we set out to achieve in the first place.


Out side of making sure our objectives are S.M.A.R.T., we have another guideline to follow as well:

Limit Musical Language

As most readers of this blog are aware, music therapy uses music to address non-music goals. Therefore, we try to keep the musical terminology used in our goals to a minimum. A goal/objective that reads "Client will play a five note scale on the piano" sounds an awful lot like a music goal. Now, we don't necessarily have to completely eliminate musical words from goals (though we often try), but let's try rephrasing that goal as "Client will improve finger strength and dexterity, as evidenced by the ability to play a five note scale on the piano." Much better.


I'd like to extend an invitation to you. Are you interested in music therapy, but on the fence? It's alright, it's perfectly reasonable to be unsure of it all. However, I think the best way to answer any of your questions would be to talk to one of our music therapists! Simply click below, and we'll get in contact with you, and brainstorm some goal and objective ideas for you or your child in music therapy.