Music therapy draws on the power of music in a therapeutic relationship to manage a range of conditions and improve your quality of life. A music therapist tailors sessions to your needs. You may sing or play instruments, listen to music or discuss the meaning of lyrics. You don’t need musical skills, and people of all ages can benefit.
Music therapy is the use of music and/or elements of music (like sound, rhythm and harmony) to accomplish goals, like reducing stress or improving quality of life. A healthcare provider called a music therapist talks to you to learn more about your needs, music preferences and experiences, and designs each session specifically for you. They also evaluate your progress each step of the way, and may work with your other healthcare providers to coordinate your care.
The number of sessions you have, the length of each session and what you do depends on your individual needs and goals. Music therapy experiences may include singing, playing instruments or writing music. Some sessions may involve listening to music and talking about its meaning.
Healthcare providers use music as therapy in many contexts, including at the bedside for people in hospitals. However, music therapy isn’t the same as listening to music to help you relax. Music can certainly be a powerful tool for calming and healing. But the definition of clinical musical therapy states that a qualified music therapist must plan and lead the session within a therapeutic relationship for it to qualify as this form of treatment.
Music therapy helps people of all ages (children, adolescents and adults) and from all walks of life. It may benefit many different aspects of your well-being, including:
Music therapists use this form of treatment to manage a vast range of conditions. It’s typically a complementary therapy. This means it’s part of a larger treatment plan that may include medications or other interventions. Research shows music therapy can offer benefits to people with:
Yes. Music therapists work with people of all ages, including young children and adolescents. They can design sessions to suit your child’s unique needs. Music therapy may support many aspects of your child’s development, including their:
No, you don’t need musical skills or talents to participate. Music therapy is open to everyone regardless of their skill level or background. Your music therapist will learn about you and any musical background you might have before designing sessions to meet your needs.
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Music therapy takes place in many different settings, including:
It depends on the individual program. You may be able to come in for sessions during the day. Or a music therapist may come to you while you’re in a hospital or school. Sometimes, music therapy happens in groups.
Your music therapist will assess your needs and strengths. You may discuss your:
Your music therapist will work with you to identify goals and design appropriate experiences for your session. In doing so, they’ll consider:
Your music therapist will guide you in making and/or listening to music during your session. You may do one or more of the following:
Music therapists use many different approaches to meet your needs. In general, the types of experiences you might have fall into two broad categories:
Your music therapist will evaluate the effectiveness of the session and determine if it met your goals. You may choose to participate in multiple sessions.
The benefits you gain depend on the condition or symptoms you’re treating and your goals for music therapy. Your music therapist can explain more about what you might expect in your unique situation. In general, research shows that music therapy may:
Music therapy is safe and low risk. But it’s possible for music to trigger painful or unexpected memories for you.
To lower the chances of this happening, your music therapist will talk to you about your life experiences. These include any history of trauma or other aspects that may influence your response to music. Sharing this information, to the extent that you’re comfortable, will allow your therapist to tailor the session to your needs. Your therapist will do everything possible to create a comfortable, safe and meaningful experience for you.
It depends on your treatment goals. You’ll work with your music therapist to decide how many sessions you’d like, how long they should be and how often you should meet.
Contact your music therapist any time you want to discuss:
Contact your primary care physician or other healthcare providers if you want to discuss:
Music therapy is a healthcare profession in which a qualified music therapist designs your sessions with specific, individualized goals in mind. Therapeutic music is a method for relaxing you or lifting your emotions in times of need. It doesn’t require a music therapist and can involve a range of experiences. This can be as simple as listening to calming music through headphones.
Music can positively influence your emotions wherever you hear it, including in hospitals or schools. This is why some healthcare professionals, like nurses, play music at the bedside to help people who are recovering or in pain. But these experiences aren’t the same as music therapy, in which a music therapist designs a treatment plan for you and guides each session.
A music therapist can help you understand more about the unique aspects of music therapy and how it may benefit you. They can also explain how you may use music in your daily life, outside of your sessions, to enjoy other benefits.
In the U.S., you can become a music therapist by:
You may need to meet additional requirements, like obtaining a state license, depending on the state where you live or work. You can learn more by contacting the American Music Therapy Association or speaking with a mentor or professor.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Music can bring people together, and it can also heal. Music therapy builds upon these possibilities of music in a clinical context. Together with your music therapist, you’ll set goals and work toward achieving them. Your therapist will talk with you each step of the way to see how you’re feeling. They’ll design each session just for you and continue to adapt sessions to your evolving interests and needs.
It’s important to keep in mind that music therapy isn’t just for children. Adults of all ages can also benefit. If you’re interested in music therapy for your child, talk to your pediatrician about how you can connect with a music therapist to learn more.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/18/2023.
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