Music Therapy Explained

I concisely define music therapy as using music to directly work towards clinical goals or using music to provide insight into areas of clinical need.

The Professional Definition

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.

Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients' abilities are strengthened and transferred 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 many 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 providing an outlet for expression of feelings.

My Approach: Music Centered Music Therapy

I predominantly use a specific approach to Music Therapy known as “Music Centered Music Therapy”. In this method, great importance is placed on the music making and musical behaviors of a Participant in music therapy. This method is advantageous because it works with any person regardless of condition or disability. It is also fun, motivating , and intrinsically rewarding for Participants. As virtually all music therapists do, I will borrow from other approaches if a situation warrants it.


This Approach to Music Therapy works through utilizing the core human desire to experience music. Music Therapy can be useful for anyone, regardless of musical ability.


As Musicians, Music Therapists facilitate musical experiences that work to make the Participant's musical experiences more: perceptible, meaningful and engaging. Or simply, we seek to increase a Participant’s musicality. This is done through a combination of making music, recreating music, and listening to music. Participants in music therapy find the experience rewarding in and of itself. As the Participant’s musicality increases, clinical gains happen as a result.


As Therapists, Music Therapists understand: science, therapy, psychology, neuroscience, musicology, and research. These help us to understand the connections between musical experiences and clinical outcomes. These clinical outcomes are measurable gains in the areas of: communication, cognition, motor functioning, emotional functioning, and social functioning. Then, as Therapists informed by our knowledge of music, we facilitate therapeutically informed musical experiences.


As Therapists, we also have training in counseling, special education, medicine, and mental health. This knowledge helps us facilitate musical experiences that Participants may not otherwise be able to access. For example, this helps us to work effectively in environments that may require medical or psychiatric knowledge. It also helps us work with Participants who have a condition that disables them from experiencing music in a regular way.


What Are The Results?

There are several outcomes we work towards as a result of music therapy.


The first is known as Generalization. Generalization is simply that: the good results that happen during a therapy session begin to happen in areas outside of a therapy session. A simple example of this would be that a child who is more attentive during a music therapy session, begins to be more attentive at home. These outcomes typically happen in the areas of: communication, cognition, motor functioning, emotional functioning, and social functioning.


The second result is showing the unique potential of a Participant during a session. This can be a powerful tool for a family member to witness, or for a Participant to directly experience. At first, this may seem less valuable than Generalization. However, what it demonstrates is capability. For example, suppose a child is only able to remain focused during a music therapy session and can not do so in any other area of their life. What this does is show to family members and others, that the child is able to be focused under the right conditions. As therapists, we are able to work with family members and other professionals to find ways to set up these conditions outside of the session.


The third is giving a Participant the ability to experience music in spite of their environment, condition, or disability. The primary skill of a music therapist in this result, is adapting the musical experience so it is accessible. For an individual to find this outcome valid, one must accept the idea that music is fundamental to humanity, and that there is inherent worth in helping a person with a disability experience music. An example of this would be helping a Participant with a hearing impairment learn an instrument.