Music therapy is a therapeutic service, offered by a trained professional, to help with a variety of mental, emotional, and developmental conditions.
What is Music Therapy?
Music therapy, considered an “allied health profession” or “expressive therapy”, is practiced by certified music therapists. In this expressive 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. Music therapy has been referred to as “an art and a science”. Because it is used for health, music therapists receive referrals from other professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, and physicians. Clients, however, can seekthis 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. 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, 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 “physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement”, as well as “providing 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 can sing when music is played. Like art therapy, music therapy has value for patients who have suffered trauma, whether the trauma is physical (i.e., from stroke or an accident) or emotional. Music therapy (and art therapy) can distract 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
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 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 “1040 supervised clinical hours”. 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).5