Integrated Music Therapy and Art Therapy (IMAT) is based on the premise that all expression is metaphorical. Art and music are interchangeable as sound, color, and form express the same feelings yet involve various parts of the brain. This treatment alternative can reach the core of an individual through the non-verbal aspect of the creative process. By allowing the individual the freedom of creative expression in a safe, trusting environment, the arts can provide a new language of self discovery that can be used to teach concepts, enhance self-awareness and self confidence, and provide a path to re-experience the developmental stages of infancy that were interrupted by processing or physical disabilities. The IMAT process can be broken down into four phases:
Phase 1 – Assessment
During the assessment phase, therapists work to make the client feel safe and comfortable in order to nurture their motivation to take part in the creative process. From the information gathered during this phase, the therapist begins to develop an approach that considers the specific needs of the client. Musical and arts experiences are designed to help the specific issue, whether it is development of language and communication skills, attention deficit issues, socialization or behavior problems, or sensory integration or motor dysfunction.
Phase 2 – Creative Exploration and the Recognition of Self
As the therapist's understanding of the child develops, and symptoms and strengths have been assessed, the process of creating new forms of expression begins to unfold. Each client's needs are very different and so are the forms their sessions take. For example, when considering working with children who have developmental delays and severe processing issues, or those children with autism who are silent and withdrawn, one must realize that these children are still functioning at the primary process level of thinking or at the level of pre-verbal thought. Ideas, images, people, or anything in their environment are not necessarily mentally named in words. If there are no words processed as representations, whereby only pictures or forms exist, it becomes impossible to communicate ideas through verbal language. Many of these children rely on the development of a trusting therapeutic relationship so that they can begin to 'play'.
Phase 3 – Transition into Re-patterning
Self-awareness for a person with communication disorders is a crucial step towards re-patterning behavior. Only when they have felt the experience of 'self' through creative expression can they begin to realize the boundary between their individual inner world and their environment. At that point, defensive postures are lessened as they begins to realize that they are in control of their own reality. When the fear of being invaded begins to subside, self-expression becomes freer and continues to blossom. The integration of language and communication skills is crucial to this phase. Music and art become a language in itself to be translated into words. Just as improvised music is considered to be the mirror of personality, words become the mirror of artistic expression. As the ability to communicate increases so does the potential for processing reality. As self-confidence and self-awareness begin to grow, so does the desire to communicate thoughts and ideas.
Phase 4 – Living in a "New Reality": Integration of Internal and External Worlds
At this stage, the IMAT process combines cognitive and reflective processing. As a client continues to vocalize and initiate words to express specific ideas, improvisation becomes a vehicle for songwriting, learning an instrument, letter and number recognition, working out conflicts through musical expression and storytelling through words and pictures. The inherent power of the creative process as a vehicle for healing is that the music and visual art become both the symbol and the means of growth. The continuous act of creating something new enables an individual at any age to constantly re-examine themselves and the reality they inhabit at that particular time. This new self-concept and understanding is the key to accepting the new relationship between their internal and external worlds.