What is Music Therapy?
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 physical, emotional, cognitive, 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.
What Music Therapy Is... and Is Not
The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) supports music for all and applauds the efforts of individuals who share their music-making and time; we say the more music the better! But clinical music therapy is the only professional, research-based discipline that actively applies supportive science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals. Below are a few important facts about music therapy and the credentialed music therapists who practice it:
- Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of AMTA’s 72 approved colleges and universities, including 1200 hours of clinical training.
- Music therapists must hold the MT-BC credential, issued through the Certification Board for Music Therapists, which protects the public by ensuring competent practice and requiring continuing education. Some states also require licensure for board-certified music therapists.
- Music Therapy is an evidence-based health profession with a strong research foundation.
- Music Therapy degrees require knowledge in psychology, medicine, and music.
These examples of therapeutic music are noteworthy, but are not clinical music therapy:
- A person with Alzheimer’s listening to an iPod with headphones of his/her favorite songs
- Groups such as Bedside Musicians, Musicians on Call, Music Practitioners, Sound Healers, and Music Thanatologists
- Celebrities performing at hospitals and/or schools
- A piano player in the lobby of a hospital
- Nurses playing background music for patients
- Artists in residence
- Arts educators
- A high school student playing guitar in a nursing home
- A choir singing on the pediatric floor of a hospital
Finally, here are examples what credentialed music therapists do:
- Work with Congresswoman Giffords to regain her speech after surviving a bullet wound to her brain.
- Work with older adults to lessen the effects of dementia.
- Work with children and adults to reduce asthma episodes.
- Work with hospitalized patients to reduce pain.
- Work with children who have autism to improve communication capabilities.
- Work with premature infants to improve sleep patterns and increase weight gain.
- Work with people who have Parkinson’s disease to improve motor function.
AMTA’s mission is to advance public awareness of the benefits of music therapy and increase access to quality music therapy services in a rapidly changing world. In consideration of the diversity of music used in healthcare, special education, and other settings, AMTA unequivocally recommends the unique knowledge and skill of board certified music therapists.
Bradt, J., Magee, W.L., Dileo, C., Wheeler, B.L., & McGilloway, E. (2010). Music therapy for acquired brain injury. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2010(7), doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006787.pub2.
Clair, A. A., Lyons, K., & Hamburg, J. (2012). A feasibility study of the effects of music and movement on physical function, quality of life, depression, and anxiety in patients with Parkinson disease. Music and Medicine, 4 (1), 49-55.
Quotes about Music Therapy
- Dr. Sanjay Gupta:
"On this day, I was playing the patient. An intensive, exhaustive seven-hour schedule was presented, full of physical therapy, speech, recreational, occupational and my personal favorite – music therapy." - CNN, February 2011
"Music therapy helps speech, but also motor skills, memory and balance. Also emotionally uplifting." - Twitter, May 2011
- Jodi Picoult (Author of the bestselling book Sing You Home):
"Music therapy, to me, is music performance without the ego. It’s not about entertainment as much as its about empathizing. If you can use music to slip past the pain and gather insight into the workings of someone else’s mind, you can begin to fix a problem. "
- Michael Greene, President & CEO of NARAS - 1997 Grammy Awards:
"When we look at the body of evidence that the arts contribute to our society, it's absolutely astounding. Music Therapists are breaking down the walls of silence and affliction of autism, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease."
- Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.):
- Sen. Harry Reid:
"Music helps all types of people to remain forever young." He noted that Congress had never before "directly addressed the question of music" as preventive medicine and as "a therapeutic tool for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and related dementias, strokes and depression."
- SUPERIOR, WI Telegram, Aug. 14, 1991.
- Mickey Hart (Grateful Dead):
"(Rhythm) is there in the cycles of the seasons, in the migrations of the birds and animals, in the fruiting and withering of plants, and in the birth, maturation and death of ourselves," Hart told a Senate panel studying music therapy.
- REUTERS, Aug. 1, 1991.
- Ida Goldman (90-year-old testifying at Senate hearings):
"Before I had surgery, they told me I could never walk again. But when I sat and listened to music, I forgot all about the pain," said Goldman, who walked with assistance during the hearing.
- REUTERS, Aug. 1, 1991.
- Sen. Harry Reid:
- Dr. Oliver Sacks ("Awakenings"):
Dr. Sacks reports that patients with neurological disorders who cannot talk or move are often able to sing, and sometimes even dance, to music. Its advocates say music therapy also can help ease the trauma of grieving, lessen depression and provide an outlet for people who are otherwise withdrawn.
- ST. Louis Post Dispatch.
- Dr. Clive Robbins (Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Clinic):
"Almost all children respond to music. Music is an open-sesame, and if you can use it carefully and appropriately, you can reach into that child's potential for development." Nordoff-Robbins uses music therapy to help 100 handicapped children learn and to relate and communicate with others.
- Barbara Crowe (past president of the National Association for Music Therapy):
- Oliver Sacks, M.D.:
- Mathew Lee (Acting Director, Rusk Institute, New York):