Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy involves creating, singing, playing, moving to, and/or listening to music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. These evidence-based interventions target individualized goals and are designed and implemented by a music therapist in a therapeutic relationship with the individual. Music therapists are credentialed after completing an approved music therapy program. After assessing the individual’s strengths and needs, the music therapist provides the treatment aiming to strengthen abilities and transfer those to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in areas such as overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and offering an outlet for expression of feelings.

Rationale for Music Therapy

Music holds universal appeal. It provides a bridge in a non-threatening setting between people and/or between individuals and their environment and facilitates relationships, learning, self-expression, and communication. Music captures and helps maintain attention. It is highly motivating and may be used as a natural “reinforcer” for desired responses. Music therapy can enable those without verbal language to communicate, participate and express themselves non-verbally. Very often music therapy also assists in the development of verbal communication, speech, and language skills. The interpersonal timing and reciprocity in shared play, turn-taking, listening and responding to another person are augmented in music therapy with children and adults with autism to accommodate and address their styles of communication. Because music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain, it can stimulate cognitive functioning and may be used for remediation of some speech/language skills. Recent research notes that music may engage brain regions that overlap the human mirror neuron system. [Wan: 2011]

Who Benefits Most From Music Therapy?

Children and adolescents with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain are some of the populations where music therapy has been very helpful. American Music Therapy Association, Inc.

Access to Music Therapy

Music therapy is considered a related service under the Individuals with Disabilites Education Act (IDEA) When music therapy is deemed necessary to assist a child benefit from his/her special education, goals are documented on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) as a related service intervention.

Music Therapy in Action

An example of music therapy in action is at Primary Children's Medical Center (PCMC) in Salt Lake City, Utah. The music therapists provide services throughout the hospital, designing individualized interventions to assist with procedural support, rehabilitative needs, emotional, spiritual and psychological support. Many services are provided at the patient’s bedside, but PCMC also has a dedicated music therapy space, called Sophie’s Place, for patients, families and staff to meet with the music therapy team. In Sophie’s Place, music therapists can work with patients and those visiting the hospital can come in and have their own music experiences. Sophie’s Place also houses the PCMC House Band, comprised of youth between the ages of 13 and 17 who play for patients every Monday and invite patients to become part of the band.

What credentials are required as a Music Therapist?

Professional music therapists have bachelor's degrees or higher in music therapy from one of over 70 college and university programs approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). In addition to academic coursework, the bachelor's degree requires 1200 hours of clinical training, including a supervised internship. Graduate degrees in Music Therapy focus on advanced clinical practice and research. Upon completion of the bachelor's degree, music therapists are eligible to sit for the national board certification exam to obtain the credential MT-BC (Music Therapist - Board Certified), granted by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). For more information, contact Certification Board for Music Therapists.

How Can You Find a Music Therapist or Get More Information?


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Helpful Articles

Standley, Jayne M. and Walworth, Darcy.
Music Therapy with Premature Infants: Research and Development Interventions.
2nd Edition ed. Silver Spring MD: The American Music Therapy Association; 2010.

Berger, Dorita S.
Music Therapy, Sensory Integration and the Autistic Child.
Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers; 2002.

Warwick A.
Music therapy in the education service: research with autistic children and their mothers.
The art & science of music therapy: A handbook. 1995:209-225.

Gold C, Wigram T, Elefant C.
Music therapy for autistic spectrum disorder.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006(2):CD004381. PubMed abstract / Full Text
Music therapy uses music and its elements to enable communication and expression, thus attempting to address some of the core problems of people with ASD. The findings indicate that music therapy may help children with autistic spectrum disorder to improve their communicative skills. More research is needed to examine whether the effects of music therapy are enduring.

Authors & Reviewers

initial publication: July 2013
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Tamara (Tony) Ollerton, MA, SCMT, MT-BC Music Therapy

Page Bibliography

Wan CY, Bazen L, Baars R, Libenson A, Zipse L, Zuk J, Norton A, Schlaug G.
Auditory-motor mapping training as an intervention to facilitate speech output in non-verbal children with autism: a proof of concept study.
PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e25505. PubMed abstract / Full Text