We can trace the idea of music's healing influence on health and behavior back to the writings of Plato and Aristotle. The earliest known use of the term "music therapy" is attributed to an unknown author of an article entitled "Music Physically Considered," published in 1789 by Columbian Magazine. From the early 1800s to the mid 1900s, music therapy gained support from psychiatrists and researchers, fostering gradual development of the formal clinical profession we know today.
Music therapy embraces the belief that, within the context of a therapeutic relationship with a trained professional, music can help address diverse physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.
How Does Music Therapy Work?
The human body responds positively to passive music listening, active music making, and shared musical experiences with others. Music therapy operates from these key principles. This alternative therapy method differs from conventional counseling because it makes the patient an active participant in activities and uses music as a facilitator for exploration and discussion.
Music therapy is a powerful tool for healing, but it is not without limitations. It is generally not recommended as a standalone treatment for severe medical or psychiatric issues. Individual music preferences also impact its efficacy. Simply put, different people respond better to the different types of music therapy. Music therapists must take these preferences into consideration.
What Are the Goals of Music Therapy?
In music therapy, professionals may develop both goals and behavioral objectives. Goals represent the long-term desired outcome while behavioral objectives focus on small, specific steps that lead patients toward their goals. Music therapy goals and objectives vary from one patient to the next, depending upon their particular situations and needs. Common examples of long-term goals include:
Improve cognitive skills such as learning, perception, recognition, memory, and impulse control.
Motor Development Goals
Improve motor functioning and skills such as movement, range of motion, muscle control, hand-eye coordination, balance, strength, and flexibility.
Improve sensory function, including auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic senses; decrease or distract from pain and discomfort; and stimulate neurochemicals for natural pain relief.
Psychological and Emotional Goals
Increase emotional awareness and appropriate emotional responses; reduce stress, trauma, and anxiety; and enhance self-awareness, decision-making, and coping skills.
Increase social involvement and participation, increase eye contact, help establish and strengthen relationships, combat isolation or withdrawal, and promote a sense of belonging.
Communication and Speech Goals
Increase response to verbal and nonverbal cues, train voice control, improve speech production and fluency, and build vocal strength or endurance.
Music Therapy Techniques
Music therapists employ techniques, tools, and exercises according to the specific needs and goals of their patients. Session activity may also be impacted by the goals of a music therapist's workplace, be it a hospital, school, senior center, veteran clinic, or private practice office. School art therapists may focus primarily on learning disabilities, for example, while hospital music therapists may focus more on rehabilitation and pain management.
Common interactions include assessment and discussion, collaborative selection of music pieces, and guidance in exercise completion
Music therapy techniques generally fall under two categories: active and receptive. Active techniques include those in which a patient participates directly in music making through singing, chanting, playing instruments, composing, or improvising. Receptive techniques include those in which a patient listens and responds to music, such as dancing or lyric analysis. Treatment typically combines active and receptive techniques for maximum benefit.
Therapists utilize the same techniques for children and adults, with appropriate modifications in place to respond to the ages and abilities of each. In listening to and analyzing a piece of music, for example, a child patient might only be asked to consider the broad emotions of the piece, while the adult patient may consider tone, tempo, and the lyrics' meanings.
Music therapists play an active role in the treatment of their patients. Common interactions include assessment and discussion, collaborative selection of music pieces, and guidance in exercise completion. Therapist-patient interaction varies further between individual and group therapy contexts. When working toward a long-term goal with an individual, the therapist develops a one-on-one relationship and focuses on the patient's progress. In a group setting, the therapist often takes on more of a conventional leadership role, directing group activities like chorus or drumming circles.Explore music therapy techniques here
Health Issues Treated by Music Therapy
Despite unclear scientific results, many expectant mothers insist on playing classical music to help promote brain development in utero. Some dementia patients with little or no short-term memory can reportedly remember and play piano pieces. Music has a clear and undeniable ability to reach us, so it comes as no surprise that music therapy benefits diverse populations facing a variety of issues.
Best of all, no prior experience or musical talent is needed to participate and benefit. Music therapists help people of all ages and abilities harness the healing power of rhythm and sound.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 1 in 68 American children. The DSM-5 describes the disorder's two core characteristics as:
- Deficits in social communication and interaction across multiple contexts
- Restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities
Music therapy can help individuals with ASD maximize their natural potential to lead fulfilling lives. ASD music therapy services vary according to each patient's abilities and needs. Using a combination of ASD-specific strategies and music therapy techniques, clinical professionals help enhance of social, communicative, motor/sensory, emotional, and cognitive functioning.
One in 10 Americans over the age of 65 suffer from Alzheimer's Disease. At age 85 and older, the number of Americans impacted by Alzheimer's Disease increases to 3 in 10. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for this progressive form of dementia, but research shows that music therapy provides a number of benefits for Alzheimer's patients.
Music causes positive sensory stimulation in most people. Even individuals in late-stage Alzheimer's tend to respond to it. When facilitated by a trained professional, clinical music therapy can be used to reduce agitation and depression symptoms, enhance cognitive ability, and improve memory recall.
Trauma and Stress
Music therapy is used to help alleviate symptoms of trauma and stress. Patients commonly include members of the military suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, individuals dealing with childhood trauma, and those facing crisis situations and their aftermath.
Patients struggling with difficult experiences can use music as a nonverbal outlet for their emotions. When designed and implemented by a clinical therapist, music therapy has also been shown to reduce anxiety and stress, promote positive changes in mood, enhance overall feelings of control and confidence, and foster positive physiological changes, including reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure.
We all know listening to our favorite music can help ease suffering from minor, everyday health issues like headaches, sore muscles, or the common cold. In a clinical setting, music therapy takes pain management further by introducing music into a behavioral conditioning process.
In this treatment model, typically used with patients facing chronic pain or illness, music listening is paired with a state of deep relaxation. Over time, with repeated sessions and practice, the music alone begins to contribute to pain management by directing attention away from discomfort, stimulating rhythmic breathing and relaxation responses, prompting associations of positive visual imagery, and improving overall mood.
The umbrella term "learning disabilities" refers to an array of specific disorders with varying degrees of severity, including dyslexia, dysgraphia, and language processing disorder. While learning disabilities cannot be cured, proper support and intervention can promote lifelong success in school, work, and community.
Music therapy is used in a variety of ways to address the individual need areas of patients with learning disabilities. Patients struggling with speech or communication can use music therapy to discriminate between sounds and language patterns. Cognitive learning disabilities can be combated with musical mnemonic devices, which are used to teach specific information and skills. Playing instruments can assist with motor development and hand-eye coordination.
How to Become a Music Therapist
This alternative to conventional counseling is a relatively young player in the field of psychiatry, less known by the general public and less represented in college programs. Thus, aspiring professionals often begin their journeys with the same basic question: How do I get into music therapy?
The most straightforward way to a music therapy career involves earning a bachelor's in music therapy, completing 1,200 hours of required fieldwork, and securing board certification. As dedicated undergraduate music therapy programs are relatively few in number, several alternative education and certification pathways exist for individuals who earn their bachelor's degree in a related subject.Music Therapy Programs
How to Find a Music Therapist
The simplest way to locate certified music therapists in your area is by searching dedicated professional directories like those listed below. Prospective music therapy patients and their families may also want to reach out to their local community, primary healthcare provider, or conventional therapist for personal recommendations and professional referrals.
- American Music Therapy Association Individual Directory AMTA's member directory allows users to seek out local music therapists. Search filters can narrow results by location, credentials, workplace setting, and populations served.
- Certified Music Therapist Search The Certification Board for Music Therapists makes it easy for clients to confirm the certification details of local professionals. Search for therapists by full name, certification number, or state.