What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is a therapeutic service offered by a trained professional to offer potential help to patients that could help them cope with a variety of mental, emotional, and developmental conditions. Certified music therapists practice music therapy, which is considered an “allied health profession” or “expressive therapy.” In this expressive form of therapy, the emotional, social, spiritual, aesthetic, and physical aspects of music are used to promote and maintain the health of the clients. The benefits of this therapy involving musical notes are said to range from social and behavioral, to cognitive and motor skills, to quality of life.
Some of the techniques used in music therapy include songwriting, improvisation, listening to music, singing, and moving to the music. All of these responses to music are things which humans naturally do, so integrating them into therapy and development is only natural.
Music therapy has been referred to as both a science and an art, in a way. Because it is used for health, music therapists receive referrals from other professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, and physicians. Musical therapy might be part of a recommended treatment plan for patients and integrated into other aspects of care, such as when a massage therapist uses soothing music while providing the patient with their massage. Interested clients, however, can also seek this kind of therapy via self-referral as well. It is beneficial to all age ranges, from infant and child, through adult and the elderly, as well as in clients with various developmental and special needs.
In general, even when used in a non-therapeutic setting, music affects people emotionally, and it may stimulate or relax. Music is an integral part of many communities and societies. There is a reason why people gather together to attend concerts or play their favorite songs for each other as a form of socializing. Music persists through the ages, and people may still enjoy today’s songs and styles which were created long before their time and which will continue to persist long after. Music paints a picture of the state of the world, and the types of songs that people create have an aspect of their creators, in a sense, which affects those who listen.
Where Music Therapy is Used
Sometimes music therapy is used in cancer centers, psychiatric hospitals, schools, rehabilitation programs, and correctional facilities.1 It can also be helpful for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, within special education settings, for clients with autism, and for pain management. It can be especially useful in those individuals who have experienced trauma.2 Research has supported the effectiveness of music therapy in facilitating movement and helping in physical rehabilitation, as well as confirming the effectiveness of music as a form of emotional support.3
Music Therapy for Trauma
The brain can preserve the ability to sing, even if a patient has lost the ability to speak. Music ability and language are processed in different areas of the brain. There have been cases, for example, of stroke patients who cannot speak, yet they are still able to sing when music is played. Like art therapy, music therapy has value for patients who have suffered trauma, whether the trauma is physical, such as that which results from a stroke or an accident, or emotional. Music therapy, and art therapy in general, can be a positive form of distraction for patients and improve their moods. Music therapy can also be used to calm those with dementia, for patients who have just regained consciousness, with those who are dying, and to distract children who have anxiety or who are facing painful procedures.
Researchers are looking into the “power of music to heal”. Dr. Jeanette Tamplin, of Melbourne University, discovered that singing can even improve respiratory functioning and muscle strength in quadriplegics. This is important because when quadriplegics cannot cough, they are at risk of developing pneumonia. Tamplin has said, “Often I hear patients sing before they can speak”.4
Training for Music Therapists
In order to properly pursue the profession, music therapists need to be musicians. They should possess knowledge of many styles of music, and most training programs focus on voice, guitar, and piano. During training, music therapists should themselves receive some form of music therapy. There are many training programs available to music therapists. Practitioners need to have an undergraduate degree in music therapy, and they also need to complete an internship of 1,040 hours in a supervised, clinical setting. Finally, music therapists must pass an examination from the Certification Board for Music Therapist (CBMT).
Some music therapists obtain post-graduate degrees, and they work in a variety of fields and settings. A professional organization for music therapists is the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). With all of these requirements, patients should use the resources available to check the credibility of anyone who claims to be a music therapist before going in to receive treatment.5