What is music therapy?

Music therapy is the clinical use of music to accomplish individualized goals such as reducing stress, improving mood and self-expression. It is an evidence-based therapy well-established in the health community. Music therapy experiences may include listening, singing, playing instruments, or composing music. Musical skills or talents are not required to participate.

Music therapy may help you psychologically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, cognitively and socially. A short list of benefits includes:

  • Lowering blood pressure.
  • Improving memory.
  • Enhanced communication and social skills through experiencing music with others.
  • Self-reflection. Observing your thoughts and emotions.
  • Reducing muscle tension.
  • Self-regulation. Developing healthy coping skills to manage your thoughts and emotions.
  • Increasing motivation.
  • Managing pain.
  • Increasing joy.

Formal music therapy was defined and first used by the United States War Department in 1945. It helped military service members recovering in Army hospitals with occupational therapy, education, recreation and physical reconditioning.

Who do music therapists work with?

People of all backgrounds, ages and cultures can respond to music, and to music therapy. Notable groups music therapists have helped include:

  • Military service members and veterans. Music therapy helps you cope with trauma.
  • People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Individuals on the spectrum learn best when there is familiarity, structure, predictability and consistency.
  • Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Music therapy may help with memory and stimulate your mind because of predictability, familiarity and feelings of security.
  • People in correctional settings. If you’re incarcerated, in a mental health facility, half-way house or group home, music therapy may help with problem-solving, communication skills, relaxation and decreasing impulsivity.
  • Victims of trauma and crisis. If you’ve experienced trauma and crisis, you might have anxiety, stress and pain. Music therapy can help you with decreasing those three experiences, improving your mood, feeling confident and in control and providing a non-verbal outlet for emotions.
  • Those who are physically ill. The list includes, but is not limited to people with chronic pain, diabetes, cardiac conditions, cancer, headaches, recent surgery and people in rehab.
  • Individuals with mental health disorders. If you’re dealing with a mental health disorder, music therapy can help you with communication and expression, help you explore your thoughts and feelings, improve your mood and concentration and develop coping skills.
  • People with chronic pain. Music therapy can help decrease your pain, anxiety, fatigue and depression.
  • Substance abusers. Music therapy may help if you have a substance abuse disorder. Research has shown that it can increase motivation and self-esteem, reduce muscle tension, decrease anxiety, improve self-awareness and strengthen coping skills.

Where does music therapy take place?

The most common settings are hospitals, schools, nursing homes, outpatient clinics, mental health centers and residences for individuals with developmental disabilities. Music therapists also go to juvenile detention facilities, schools and private practices.

Is music therapy outpatient or inpatient?

Whether the music therapy is delivered outpatient or inpatient depends on the individual program. You may be able to come in for sessions during the day (just like a counseling appointment), or a music therapist may come to you while you’re admitted into the hospital or at school. Sometimes music therapy is held in groups.

Do music therapists work with children and adolescents?

Yes. Music therapy may help with the following:

  • Behavior disorders.
  • Mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Attention deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
  • Trauma.
  • Substance abuse disorders.

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