Music Therapy

What is music therapy? Music therapy is an evidence-based, therapeutic modality that uses music to address health issues. While most people are able to use music for pleasure or relaxation, the profession of music therapy takes this a step further by using clinical assessment tools to determine what type of musical experiences are best suited for each client during treatment.

Beyond its effective use in Western medicine, specific forms of music therapy have been found through research to be useful in helping relieve symptoms related to chronic pain, cancer treatment, dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, mood disorders, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

How does it work?

An experienced therapist who is board certified in clinical music therapy will conduct a thorough evaluation to determine how music can best fit into the treatment plan. Then, through the process of improvisation or structured exercises using drums, vocalizing, playing an instrument, singing, or listening to familiar music, clients are able to discover new ways of coping with stress and emotions that may have been hindering their progress.

Music therapy sessions are conducted in private studios or hospitals by certified therapists who work closely with patients, physicians, and other caregivers. Some institutions have music rooms where patients can go to explore instruments during non-therapy times as well.

Music therapy

Who is it for?

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA): “Music therapy is for anyone wishing to use musical stimuli—in any form—as a way of getting more out of life… for whatever reason. Some people, however, may benefit more than others.”

The AMTA lists the following populations as potential clients: individuals who are recovering from illness or injury; children and adults with developmental disabilities; older adults; veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); people coping with grief or loss; patients in medical settings (e.g., hospice) or rehabilitation programs (e.g., stroke recovery); and individuals involved in artistic endeavors.

Music therapists will assess each client’s needs to determine which setting would best suit their needs during treatment, whether it be a private studio, hospital room, or music room within an institution. The therapist will also work closely with other members of the client’s treatment team to ensure that this alternative therapy complements the client’s other treatments.

How is it learned?

Music therapists are educated in one of seven graduate-level programs accredited by the National Association for Music Therapy. This includes an approved bachelor’s degree, at least 1,200 hours of clinical training and experience with diverse populations, music theory, music fundamentals, research methods, and ethics. Students are also required to complete their own creative work involving music. AMTA suggests additional coursework in areas related to a student’s career goals, such as neuroscience, psychology, social sciences, or humanities. Additionally, it is necessary to be licensed or certified in the state where one intends to practice which includes passing licensing exams developed through reciprocal agreements between states.

To further increase knowledge and skills, music therapists may choose to pursue certification by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT), which offers credentials such as Apprentice (AMTB), Professional Member (AMTP), and Credentialed Clinical Member (CCMT).

How is it funded?

The American Music Therapy Association notes that public funding for music therapy services varies from state to state; however, some states do not offer any benefits. A few health insurance companies cover treatment costs, and others may offer partial reimbursement of sessions based on a patient’s plan. The AMTA also suggests contacting local or national music therapy organizations in search of scholarship or grant opportunities.

Some universities have found effective ways to incorporate this specialized form of musical intervention into their medical curricula, which is a cost-effective way to provide students with hands-on training.

Who can participate?

People of all ages and with any type of health issue are eligible for music therapy services, including those who have experienced trauma or loss. Research shows that children treated in this setting demonstrate improved self-esteem, concentration skills, and social abilities. Music therapists may work intensively with individuals, groups, or families during their sessions. Sessions are designed to promote the client’s own experience of therapeutic benefit rather than meet predetermined goals. A typical session will be comprised of musical activities suited to the client’s preferences related to mood, activity level, time frame, and focus. At times non-musical techniques might be incorporated depending on the client’s needs.

Music therapists may also work with clients in medical settings to provide the client with a sense of control over the situation, relaxation, and distraction from pain or discomfort. Music can play a role in decreasing anxiety before procedures or surgery, as well as reduce pain, decrease blood pressure during procedures or help improve the quality of life for people who are dying.

What are the benefits of music therapy?

There are numerous studies confirming the benefits of music therapy, but one of the most striking findings is that it can help patients manage pain or stress more effectively. The Music Therapy Association cites these examples:

1. A study at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago found that hospitalized children who listened to music prior to and during painful procedures experienced less anxiety, needed smaller doses of sedative medications, and were able to leave their rooms more quickly following surgery.

2. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health showed that listening to soft music helps trauma victims cope with pain related to wound care. These participants also required fewer amounts of morphine than those who underwent standard treatment containing only sponge baths and dressings changes.

3. A study at Bryn Mawr College revealed that hospitalized children who listened to music during their dialysis treatment experienced less pain and were more cooperative, allowing for a better overall experience.

4. In a study at the University of Alberta Hospital in Canada, patients recovering from total knee replacement surgery were given headphones and a choice of five pre-recorded relaxation or upbeat music selections to listen to while they underwent the first phase of their physical therapy program. Participants assigned to positive music reported significantly less discomfort, required fewer painkillers, and experienced greater improvements in range-of-motion measures three weeks after surgery as compared with those assigned to relaxation tapes.

Other benefits include:

1. Improved sleep patterns

2. Decreased anxiety, especially among those suffering from dementia

3. Improved focus

4. Reduced blood pressure during stress

5. Improved immune system response

6. Reduced cortisol levels in the bloodstream

7. Increased pain tolerance.

The prevailing style of music therapy, which focuses on the emotionally expressive qualities of musical elements, is not appropriate for everyone all of the time. People with medical conditions that involve cognitive difficulties may be better served by a more prescriptive approach that focuses on providing comfort and distraction from pain or discomfort without attempting to evoke specific emotional responses. Music therapy can also be used alone or in combination with other therapies to promote overall wellness in adults, seniors, and children. It may also provide an alternative way to improve well-being when individuals are unable to access traditional forms of treatment such as surgery, medications, or physical therapy.

While music has been studied and used extensively in medical settings to provide emotional support and promote healing, there is still much research that needs to be done. However, it’s clear that music can play an important role not only in helping people cope with a variety of medical conditions but also enhance overall wellness and well-being.

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