How Music Changes Lives: A Closer Look at Music Therapy

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As a music therapy major, I often get asked what that exactly means, or what I want to do with it after I graduate. While there are some people who do not know what music therapy is or how it works, it is still a viable and needed career field. Music has the power to change lives and aid in the therapeutic process; here's how...

What is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), “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”.  In other words, music therapy is a field that is backed by scientific evidence, where music is used as the therapeutic medium to reach a clinical goal. 

What is NOT Music Therapy?

Music therapy is not the same as bedside musicians, choirs visiting nursing homes, or an older adult with Alzheimer’s listening to an iPod playlist of their favorite songs. While all of these things are wonderful and still needed, they just are not the same thing as music therapy. The reasons being they are not performed by a qualified professional who has completed a sufficient program, they are not goal-oriented, and they are not evidence-based.

Who Can Practice It?

Music therapy can be practiced by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program, or an equivalency program. These professionals have to pass a national exam to be certified to practice, and some states require further licensure of music therapists. They must have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and there are currently 72 schools approved by the AMTA.

Who Can Benefit From It?

Music is accessible all across the lifespan, therefore everyone can benefit from music therapy including infants and older adults. Some examples of this include using music in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in a hospital with babies who were born prematurely to work on feeding behaviors and increasing oxygenation rates; music therapists can also work with children who have special needs concerning reading social cues, eye contact, communication, and boundaries. Other populations that benefit from this type of therapy are inmates in a prison, adults in a psychiatric unit in a hospital or outpatient unit, older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, brain trauma patients relearning how to speak or walk, and so many more. Since music is something everyone has experienced and can relate to, it makes music therapy a very accessible field. 

What Does an Example of This Look Like? 

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords did an interview with ABC News concerning her work with a music therapist. After enduring and surviving a brain injury, she worked with a music therapist to regain her ability to speak and expand her vocabulary. You can watch the video here


For more information about music therapy, you can visit the American Music Therapy Association’s website