What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy with Children

“Music is what feelings sound like.” ~ Author Unknown

Music therapists are specially trained to use music to promote wellness. Although music has been used as a healing influence since early civilization, music therapy emerged as a healthcare profession following World War I, when musicians traveled to hospitals around the United States to play for Veterans suffering from both physical and emotional trauma.

Music therapists assess the emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills of an individual through musical responses and then design individualized music sessions based on the clients needs. Sessions incorporate various techniques such as music improvisation, receptive music listening, songwriting and lyric discussion, music performance, and learning through music.

All styles of music can be useful in effecting change in a client’s life. There is no particular style of music that is more therapeutic then all the rest. The individual’s preference, circumstances, need for treatment and goals all help to determine the styles of music used in a session. This is one of the benefits of music therapy – the person gets to choose.

Depending on the individualized treatment plan and objectives, clients are provided with opportunities to make choices. This can be of great significance when much of their life is void of choice due to their disposition or circumstances. It is incredibly empowering for the client and contributes to building self-esteem, which is fundamental in fully addressing other areas of need such as, developing social skills or learning.

Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in a wide variety of healthcare and educational settings (American Music Therapy Association, 2006). Music therapists are trained practitioners, required to complete accredited degree programs and meet the national requirements for certification. Music therapists work in schools, psychiatric and medical hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, day care treatment centers, nursing homes, agencies serving developmentally disabled persons, substance abuse programs, private practice and many others.

Music therapy can meet a person’s needs regardless of whether or not they can “sing on pitch” or “beat a steady rhythm.” The client does not need to have any particular musical ability to benefit from the work as the magic of music can be found within us all!

-Ian Wilkerson, MT-BC, NMT, founder, Bay Area Music Therapy

Originally published as “The Healing Powers of Music” on Open Exchange at http://www.openexchange.org