Why do people play the guitar? Is it to express their inner feelings, to become famous and rich, to improve their attractiveness or to annoy the neighbours? I think the main reason people play the guitar is that it makes them feel good.
So it’s not surprising to hear guitars are often used in music therapy. A recent review by Robert E. Krout, found 64 published reports of guitar therapy. Music therapists used the guitar to help children with learning disabilities or medical problems, and to help adolescents, adults, prisoners and senior citizens.
One kid with learning disabilities was having trouble understanding that the guitar needed to be played, and didn’t work on its own.
“As he was strumming just open strings and not changing chords with chord fingerings, [the boy] observed “the guitar doesn’t know this song!”
Other reports show how the guitar can help improve situations, offering hope where medical treatment is no longer useful.
“Rudenberg (1982) described a 14-year-old boy who had lost his fingers when he was 2 years old through a burn accident. In spite of this, he wanted to learn to play a steel string guitar. The music therapist showed him how he could play a regular guitar, tuned to the key of C major, by using a metal guitar slide to bar chords. The boy indicated he could do that, but realized he would need a strap to hold the slide to his hand, so he could lift the slide off the strings. The occupational therapist and music therapist worked with him to prepare the adaptation so he could successfully strum the guitar.“
"In another medical example, Sanderson (1984, cited in Standley, 1986, 2000) described how learning the guitar helped a 15-year-old boy with terminal cancer and lower limb paralysis. He was depressed and noncommunicative at the time of the music therapy referral. The therapist provided him with a guitar to use, which motivated him and helped to reduce his loneliness. The guitar was the means for this patient to develop an interest in life again, as well as to interact with others. For 3 weeks while in the hospital, he continued learning guitar, while also becoming more expressive about his feelings and anxieties. Guitar lessons continued at home and on re-admission to hospital. His Christmas present from his parents was a guitar, and he played for staff and patients in the ward. During the following 6 months, regular lessons continued at home or in the hospital. On his final re-admission after 9 months, he was too ill to play, but the music therapist played and sang for him daily until his death.”
Source: Krout, R.E. The attraction of the guitar as an instrument of motivation,preference, and choice for use with clients in music therapy: A review of the literature. The Arts in Psychotherapy: 34 (2007), 36–52