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What is Music Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Music therapy is a form of therapy which utilizes music. This type of therapy may involve making music or listening to music, and it has a number of applications, from helping traumatized children express themselves to assisting with stroke rehabilitation. Many nations have professional organizations for music therapists, some of which offer board exams which provide certification to professionals who have received adequate training.

Humans have been making music for thousands of years, and many theorists throughout history have proposed the idea that music is beneficial to the mind and body, in addition to being enjoyable. In the 20th century, the practice of music therapy began to be refined as researchers conducted studies to learn how music acted on the brain and body. Listening to and making music appears to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, stimulate various types of brain activity, and provide people with a sense of calmness, safety, or security.

People can practice music therapy in a variety of ways. Most practitioners have studied psychology or psychiatry along with music, and they have received training specifically in the practice of music therapy from an institution of higher education. Music therapists work in hospitals, clinics, residential facilities, private practices, and homes, and they see a wide assortment of clients.

Sometimes, the session may be one on one. This is common when a patient needs to work through a particular issue or problem. Group sessions can be seen in residential treatment facilities to provide multiple patients with the generalized benefits of music therapy. In a psychiatric facility or nursing home, for example, being able to listen to music or to play around with instruments may make patients less stressed and more amenable to treatment.

Some specific applications for music therapy include: pain management, stroke rehabilitation, stress management, behavioral therapy, treatment for substance abuse, and work with people who have developmental disabilities. The sessions are tailored to the need of the patient, and they can include a variety of things, from listening to a piece of music and talking about the feelings it evokes to playing an instrument or writing songs as a method of personal expression. Typically, this type of therapy is accompanied by other types of therapy and medical treatment.

Like other expressive therapies such as art therapy and dance therapy, the focus of music therapy is not on the end product, such as a musical composition, and people do not need to have prior experience with music to benefit from this type of therapy. The therapeutic process is more focused on the process of listening to, creating, or thinking about music, and there are no right and wrong ways to do things, in the eyes of the therapist.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon192318 — On Jun 30, 2011

I am a music therapist and concur with the statements about music therapy in this article. If anyone who reads this knows someone who might benefit from music therapy, contact the American Music Therapy Association to find a music therapist in your area. Music therapy can restore, improve and maintain one's current level of functioning.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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