What is Music Therapy?

We get this question all the time.

The simple answer is “using music to achieve non-musical goals” or, as our tagline says, “promoting wellness through musical experiences.”

A more descriptive and comprehensive definition provided by by American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)  is:

“Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physicalemotionalcognitive, and social needs of individuals.  After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music.  Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives.

Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words.  Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.”

Music therapy . . .

Is systematic and purpose-driven – the music therapist carefully designs musical experiences to address the client’s therapeutic goals and objectives.  These goals are based on assessment criteria and may be:

  • Physical (such as promoting exercise or improving motor skills)

  • Cognitive (such as evoking memories or learning new information)

  • Communication (such as expressing oneself through music or enhancing speech)

  • Social (such as reducing isolation or improving social skills)

  • Emotional (such as expressing emotion or reducing stress)

  • Spiritual (such as life review or connection with Higher Power)

Is a process – therapy occurs over a progression of time. It is a gradual, sequential and evolutionary process toward therapeutic change.  While single music experiences (such as attending a sing along or musical performance) may have a beneficial or therapeutic effect, music therapy occurs as a process over time leading to a desired outcome.

American Music Therapy Association

Music therapy...

  • Is administered by a trained music therapist – see below for more information on music therapy training

  • Includes a variety of musical experiences: receptive, re-creational, improvisational and composition

  • Is knowledge-based, drawing on traditional clinical practice and ongoing research.

  • Promotes health, wellness and wholeness


What Does Music Therapy Do for Clients?

Depending on the client’s goals and objectives, music therapy may target any of the following therapeutic areas.  This is not an exhaustive list, just some examples:

Physiological:  heart rate, blood pressure, gastric motility, hormone levels, immune response
Psychophysiological: pain, arousal, relaxation, fatigue, energy levels
Sensorimotor:  gross and fine motor coordination
Cognition:  attention, memory, learning
Behavioral patterns
Emotional:  range of emotion, affect, congruence, anxiety, depression, motivation
Interpersonal: sensitivity to others, interactional skills, relationship patterns and styles
Creativity:  originality, inventiveness

Why is music so effective?  According to anthropologist Alan Merriam (1964), no other known cultural activity reaches into, shapes, and controls so much of human behavior as does music. (Therapeutic Uses of Music with Older Adults)


What is a Music Therapist?

A board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) must be certified by the Certification Board of Music Therapists (CBMT) by completion of the following:

  • Graduation from an American Music Therapy Association approved academic program at the Bachelor or Master level, including clinical training and internship of 1,200 hours

  • Completion of a written examination of skills and competencies

  • Recertification every 5 years through examination or successful completion of 100 continuing education (CMTE) credits

Music therapists must demonstrate certain essential competencies.  These include:

Clinical foundations:  including exceptionality, therapeutic dynamics and therapeutic relationship

Music therapy foundations: including assessment, treatment planning, treatment implementation, documentation, evaluation, interdisciplinary (treatment team) collaboration, supervision, closure and ethics.

Musical foundations: vocal, keyboard, guitar, nonsymphonic instrumentation, composing, arranging, conducting, improvisation and creative movement.


What is a Music Therapy session like?

There are many different types of music therapy sessions.  Above all, a music therapy session is client-centered, meaning the needs and interests of the client are of utmost importance.  Depending on the assessed functioning of the client and the treatment goals and objectives, here are other important considerations:

Structure – A session may include a group of clients or one-to-one.

Content –– A session will include lots of music making!  We will sing, play small percussion instruments, engage in movement activities, create new music through improvisation or songwriting, and listen to live or recorded music.  Clients will participate as they choose.  There is no pressure to perform or “get it right.”

Location — A session may take place at the client’s home, at a nursing home, retirement center, day center, at a hospital bedside.

Skill needed – Since musical ability is not necessary for effective music therapy, clients of all ages, skills, abilities and disabilities may benefit.

Some specific groups we may offer:

Bell Choir – for adults in independent or assisted living settings
Singing Group/Choir —  for clients with Parkinson’s Disease or other vocal challenges
Drum Circle—for work environments or other team building settings
Musical Memories – for adults with dementia
Music and Movement — for adults in independent or assisted living settings
Bereavement groups–for adults or kids
Family Music – to encourage family music making


Who do music therapists work with?

You can find music therapists promoting wellness though musical experiences with clients in:

  • Nursing homes
  • Hospitals, including oncology, children, pre-surgery, cardiac and stroke recovery
  • Mental health sites including addiction clinics and state hospitals
  • Day centers for adults with developmental disabilities
  • Preschools
  • Retirement centers
  • Memory care units
  • Neonatal intensive care (NICU)
  • Private practice
  • Pain clinics
  • Hospice
  • Maternity/Birthing
  • Special Education

Board certified music therapists must:

  • Meet educational and training requirements
  • Complete examination of skills to ensure knowledge of safe, competent practice
  • Practice within the defined Scope of Practice
  • Participate in continuing education
  • Abide by the CBMT Code of Professional Practice