Music Therapy: So, What Is It, Really?

written by Metro Music Makers instructor and music therapist,  Annie Summar, MT-BC

 What is music therapy


“Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
-Leonard Bernstein


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.” In other words, a music therapist uses music—whether that’s through singing, instrument playing, active listening, or songwriting—to help clients achieve non-musical goals and transfer those skills to daily life. Clients of music therapists are not required to have any sort of musical ability or training to benefit from its services. It truly can benefit anyone and everyone.


Where Do Music Therapists Work?

Music therapists are found at a wide variety of locations. Some of these include senior centers, assisted living facilities, school systems, day service centers, rehabilitation facilities, children’s hospitals, addiction recovery centers, psychiatric hospitals, within hospice companies, and at therapy clinics. Music therapists are qualified to work with people from birth through end of life, but most specialize with a certain population or age group. Music therapists are also found co-treating with speech therapists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists.


Common Goals in Music Therapy

Goals for music therapy sessions are set on an individual basis with each client and their specific needs. The common domain areas for these goals are cognitive, social/emotional, motor, communication, and sensory. Some examples include:

  • Increasing attention to tasks
  • Decreasing negative behaviors
  • Increasing motor functioning
  • Increasing communication
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Decreasing impulsive behaviors
  • Learning sight words
  • Learning letters and numbers
  • Increasing functional use of right and left hands
  • Decreasing anxiety


How Do I Become a Music Therapist?

To become a music therapist, one must attend an accredited program at a four-year university or attend a master’s equivalency program at an accredited university. After completing the proper schooling, each potential music therapist works at their personally chosen clinical site to complete 1200 clinical hours. These hours consist of direct client contact, supervision, and planning and documentation of sessions. After completing these hours, one is eligible to sit for the board-certification exam. Upon passing the exam, one becomes a board-certified music therapist. In certain states, such as Georgia, music therapists must also hold a state license. Every five years, each board-certified music therapist must receive 100 continuing education credits to ensure they are up to date on current research and techniques within the field. (For a detailed look into what is required to become a music therapist, check out our blog series, “The Journey of a Music Therapist.”)


How Does it Work?

One of the unique qualities of music therapy sessions is that each music therapist customizes the session plan for not only the client and diagnosis, but where the client is that specific day. Music therapists strive to set up each client for success and in doing this, we ensure that something positive comes out of every session. There are several different strategies for music therapy sessions, and some can include songwriting (either from scratch or with a fill-in-the-blank template), instrument playing, group singing, musical games, lyric analysis, or relaxation to music. Each intervention is designed with the client’s specific goals in mind, and they are used to help the client work towards their goals. Before starting sessions with a music therapist, the client is assessed for their specific skill set and area of need. Once the goals are set, clients typically see their music therapist once a week and sometimes more for sessions.


Overall, music therapy proves to be an extremely beneficial form of therapy. It provides clients with a safe and fun space to work on their specific goals with a board-certified therapist.


Would you or someone you know benefit from our music therapy services? Reach out to us today for a free evaluation, or email Kristen Van Dyke, LPMT, MT-BC.

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