What is ‘Music Therapy’?

Here’s a video where I describe what Music Therapy is (and isn’t), and what credentialed Music Therapists like myself do.

One of the things that all Music Therapists quickly discover is that we all need to be advocates for our profession and try to help educate people regarding what we do and how we do it.  If someone misrepresents ‘Music Therapy’ as something that it is not, we will try to (politely) explain the difference.

At the end of the video I referenced the website for the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), their website is musictherapy.org.

My colleague In Ohio USA, Carrie Whatley, also works with adult patients near the end-of-life.  She wrote an excellent article giving answers to frequently asked questions about music therapy, which I’m copying here:
“So what exactly is music therapy?”- According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as “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.”

“What does a music therapist do?”- Just like other credentialed professionals in the field of healthcare, music therapists assess the well-being of clients; However, they assess through musical responses.  Music therapists assess clients in a variety of areas, including “emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, cognitive skills,” etc.  Each session is uniquely tailored for individuals and groups based on their overall needs, and music therapists use many different intervention approaches to assess, plan, treat, and re-evaluate.  Among these interventions are music improvisation, songwriting, lyric analysis, receptive music listening, music performance, music and movement, music assisted relaxation, and more.  “Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives.”

“Is it a newer profession?”- Music therapy has actually been around for a decent amount of time!  You can find writings dating back to Aristotle and Plato explaining music to be “a healing influence which could affect health and behavior.”  It wasn’t until after WWI and WWII, however, when medical professionals began to realize the effect music had on their patients.  Veterans experiencing emotional and physical trauma from the war were presenting significant positive responses when the musicians came.  Demand continued to grow for more training, and the first collegiate curriculum for music therapy was established in 1944 at Michigan State University.

“Who do you work with?”- I always like to say that music therapy can potentially make a difference from birth to death!  Scratching the surface, here are some of the populations that music therapists work with:

  • Children, adolescents, adults, and elderly with mental health needs
  • Developmental and learning disabilities
  • Alzheimer’s disease and other aging related conditions
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Physical disabilities
  • Acute and chronic pain
  • Mothers in labor
  • Veterans
  • Etc, etc, etc.

“Where can you work?”- Going off of that, there are a variety of settings you can find a music therapist in:

  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Rehabilitative facilities
  • Medical hospitals (childbirth, NICU, pediatric, ICU, oncology, surgery, etc.)
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Day care treatment centers
  • Agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities
  • Community mental health centers
  • Drug and alcohol programs
  • Senior centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Hospice and palliative programs
  • Correctional facilities
  • Halfway houses
  • Schools
  • Private practice
  • Etc, etc, etc.

“I saw music therapy on the iPod documentary.”- The Music and Memory℠ program does a fantastic job in revealing the powerful effects of music with older adults; However, it does not represent clinical music therapy.  The iPods provide residents with music they enjoy, but music listening does not replace the work of a credentialed music therapist.  They are trained to use music to meet clinical, non-musical goals with clients (such as enhancing communication, increasing socialization, reducing depression and agitation, decreasing pain perception, exercising remaining mental capabilities, enhancing quality of life, and more).  These personalized goals cannot be met effectively through music listening without further intervention.  This same principle applies to volunteers playing music at the bedside or in the lobby.  Ultimately, I believe that collaboration between MT and M&M allows us to better serve clients as a whole!  Positive partnering is key to helping music impact more lives.

“How many colleges offer a music therapy degree?”- Currently on the American Music Therapy Association website, there are 81 universities that have an AMTA-approved music therapy program.

“What all do you have to do to become a music therapist?”- “Those who wish to become music therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved program and have at minimum the entry level credential, MT-BC to ethically practice as a music therapist. The curriculum includes coursework in music, music therapy, biology, psychology, social and behavioral sciences, and general studies. Clinical skills are developed through 1200 hours of required fieldwork, including an internship in healthcare and/or education facilities. These experiences allow students to learn how to assess the needs of clients, develop and implement treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes.  Once the music therapy degree is earned and internship is completed, the student is eligible to sit for a board certification exam to earn the entry level credential, MT-BC, (music therapist, board certified) from the credentialing body, the Certification Board for Music Therapists.  To maintain this credential, music therapists must demonstrate continued competence by completing 100 recertification credits within each five-year recertification cycle.”

“What goals do you address in Hospice music therapy?”- I get this question often because it pertains to the population I am working with.  Each client that I assess and plan for is going to be different, so not everyone is going to have the same exact goals.  However, there may be similarities.  Here is a compiled list of some goals I might address with clients in my chosen population:

  • Physical
    • Increase physical comfort
    • Increase relaxation/Provide distraction
    • Reduce agitation
    • Enhance respiratory comfort
    • Decrease pain perception
    • Increase sensory stimulation
    • Improve quality of life
  • Psychological
    • Exercise remaining mental capabilities
    • Engage in life review and reminiscence
  • Social
    • Enhance communication with care professionals
    • Increase meaningful social interaction
    • Increase social support
    • Increase family communication
  • Emotional
    • Elevate mood/Brighten affect
    • Provide comfort and solace
    • Increase emotional support
    • Acknowledge and process life changes
    • Reduce stress
    • Increase patience and family self-expression
    • Identify coping strengths/resources
    • Increase patient and family support and comfort
  • Spiritual
    • Offer spiritual support
    • Explore spirituality
    • Leave behind a legacy

About Brett

Music Therapist (MMT, MT-BC), Musician, Teacher (Music and English) in Barcelona, Spain

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