What is music therapy?

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.”

Music therapists use music to meet the psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, and social needs of patients and their families.

A music therapist completes the following:

  • A four-year degree program from an approved college or university.
  • Clinical training experiences, concluding with a 6-10 month internship.
  • A board certification exam.

Where do music therapists work?

Music therapists can be found in a variety of settings/facilities, from medical to social service and educational programs. The most common settings are hospitals, schools, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, mental health centers, and residences for individuals with developmental disabilities.

What does a music therapist do?

Music therapists evaluate a patient's emotional well-being, physical health, physiological (bodily) responses, perceptual/motor skills, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive (mental and intellectual) skills through observation and discussion with the patient and/or family members.

The music therapist identifies and considers a patient’s musical background and musical preferences, then designs goals and activities that are used within sessions to meet the patient's needs. Some of these activities include:

  • Music listening
  • Lyric discussion
  • Music-assisted relaxation
  • Singing
  • Instrument playing
  • Songwriting
  • Musical entrainment (matching movement with the rhythm of the music).

A music therapist also takes part in treatment planning and the ongoing evaluation and follow-up care of the patient.

What are some of the effects of music?

Music affects an individual in numerous ways. Music can:

  • Affect the body by changing heart rate and lowering blood pressure, body temperature, and respiration (breathing) rate.
  • Help improve quality of life, lessen feelings of isolation, and provide an increased sense of control.
  • Call up repressed (bottled up) emotions that may now be released.
  • Open the door spiritually and allow patients and families the opportunity to explore their own spiritual beliefs.
  • Physically stimulate conscious or unconscious body movements, such as toe tapping or large body movements, and improved gait (walking) and speech.
  • Bring people together socially, not just at large gatherings such as parties, weddings, or funerals, but in more informal, intimate shared experiences.

How can music therapy help in the hospital?

Music therapy can provide a wide range of possible outcomes, such as:

  • Anxiety reduction
  • Coping skills
  • Improved work of breathing
  • Improved mood/decreased depression
  • Improved motor development or processing
  • Management of and/or distraction from pain
  • Opportunities for socialization and interaction
  • Reduction of blood pressure, heart rate, and/or muscle tension
  • Relaxation and/or improved sleep
  • Self-expression
  • Stimulation or enabling of cognitive skills
  • Stimulation or enabling of communication and language skills
  • Stress management

How can I contact a music therapist?

For more information on music therapy, or to contact a music therapist, please call the Music Therapy Manager of the Cleveland Clinic's Arts and Medicine Institute at 216.444.9639.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 1/5/2017...#8817