Date of Award

Spring 5-16-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

MA - Master of Arts


Expressive Therapies


Sarah Hamil, PhD, LCSW, RPT-S, ATR-BC


Associations are formed in our minds based upon three elements: sensory experience, emotions, and memories. These associations, unique to each individual, dictate thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and actions. Some are necessary and supportive, while others can be maladaptive. Established associations can be changed, and new associations can be formed, to align with a client’s goals. The literature presents a strong history of associationism, as well as a body of research that demonstrates the neurological processes of how mental associations are formed. There are also studies showing how music activates the brain. However, there is a lack of research which draws direct correlations between the regions of the brain involved in forming associations and the regions of the brain activated during music engagement, resulting in a missed opportunity to use music, especially music therapy, in the context of working with a client’s associations. The history of associationism, the neurology of associations, and the brain’s response to music introduced a strong comparison between brain regions involved in forming associations and those activated while exposed to music, supporting the idea that music therapy can be a strong tool to use in conjunction with other therapeutic models to enhance the efficacy of creating new or shifting current mental associations to support a client’s therapeutic goals.

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