Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy uses music to address a number of emotional, cognitive, and social issues in people of all ages. It is often used with people who have disabilities or illness, but the healing benefits of music can be enjoyed by anyone and at any age. The process of making and listening to music can provide a channel for communication and expression that may go beyond what is easily expressed in words.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, Music Therapy is "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." (American Music Therapy Association definition, 2005)

How did music therapy begin?

The connection between music and emotion has long been acknowledged, along with the ability of music to influence both mental and physical health. Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle all wrote about how music affects health and behavior, and aboriginal tribes from all over the world have used music as part of their healing arts.

Music therapy as it exists today began in the 1960s as scientists and doctors began proving the healing power of music with clinical trials.

In the 1970s, "new age" music emerged as a genre of music without recognizable harmony, rhythm or melody that is used for yoga, meditation and relaxation.

Today, music therapists work in a variety of different settings including hospitals and clinics, schools, substance abuse centers, nursing homes and private practice.

What do Music Therapists do?

They work in either a one-on-one or group setting to help clients work through their problems in a non-verbal, musical way. The therapist may begin by playing a tune him or herself, and then invite the client to join in or respond with their own instruments.

The therapist may also ask the client to listen to relaxing music to soothe stress and anxiety. Through their client’s musical responses, music therapists measure the emotional wellbeing, physical and mental health and communication abilities of the client to better understand the issues at hand and to formulate future treatment plans.

Because it is used on a wide-ranging number of people and issues, there is no one way to practice Music Therapy. Rather, the therapist decides what techniques are best suited to the individual client.

Do I need to know how to play an instrument? Will I be taught to play or read music?

No, it is not necessary to have any experience playing music, and the therapist will not teach you to play music. The purpose of a music therapy session is to express your self through music by improvising and responding to the music in new ways, regardless of skill level.

How does it work?

Music Therapy works on a number of different levels and in a number of different ways. It has been proven that music, especially pieces with a strong rhythmical element, can affect heart rate and breathing, and promote the release of endorphins, or natural painkillers. It has also been shown to reduce muscle tension, and can be very helpful in promoting relaxation. Music can also be helpful in releasing memories or negative feelings that may have been repressed, which can help to change behaviors and affect behavioral issues. Playing music can also improve skills such as communication and physical coordination.

What is Music Therapy commonly used for?

Music Therapy is used for many different issues, from stress relief to mental, emotional and behavioral problems. It has been shown to help treat depression and anxiety, and is often used to help elderly clients deal with memory loss associated with diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia. Music Therapy is also used to relieve pain, especially related to labor or terminal illness.

Can I use Music Therapy on my own?

Music Therapy can be used in healthy individuals in a number of ways. Playing an instrument or beating a drum can alleviate stress, and listening to music can help with relaxation. Music can also be an important tool to use while exercising, for motivation and encouragement.

How do I find a Music Therapist?

Music Therapists work in a number of different settings, from schools and hospitals to nursing homes and private practices. Contact your medical care provider for a reference.



Alternative Healing: The Complete A-Z Guide to more than 150 Alternative Therapies by Mark Kastner, L.Ac., Dipl.Ac., and Hugh Burroughs. Henry Holt and Company: 1996.

Encyclopedia of Healing Therapies by Anne Woodham and Dr. David Peters.