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What is Music Therapy?
Music Therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. Music therapy can improve the quality of life for persons who are well and meets the needs of children and adults with challenges, disabilities or illnesses.
Music therapy interventions can be designed to:
  • promote wellness
  • ​modify behavior
  • manage stress
  • alleviate pain
  • express feelings
  • ​enhance memory
  • improve communication
  • promote physical rehabilitation
  • maintain or improve physical/cognitive/speech functioning
The client or patient does not need to have any music ability to benefit from music therapy.  There are many styles of music therapy, all of which can be useful in effecting change in a client or patient’s life.  Music therapy interventions and services are individualized for each particular client or patient.  The individual’s preferences, circumstances and need for treatment, and the client or patient’s goals help to determine the types of music a music therapist may use.

Since ancient times, music has been used as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior.  It is mentioned in the writings of Aristotle and Plato.  In the Bible, David played his harp for King Saul on a regular basis in order to calm him.  The 20th century discipline began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types, both amateur and professional, went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars. The patients’ notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals. It was soon evident that the hospital musicians needed some prior training before entering the facility and so the demand grew for a college curriculum. The first music therapy degree program in the world, founded at Michigan State University in 1944, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1994. The American Music Therapy Association was founded in 1998 as a union of the National Association for Music Therapy and the American Association for Music Therapy.

American Music Therapy Association

The American Music Therapy Association is the largest professional association which represents over 5,000 music therapists, corporate members and related associations worldwide. Founded in 1998, its mission is the progressive development of the therapeutic use of music in hospitals, rehabilitation, special education, and other community settings. AMTA sets the education and clinical training standards for music therapists.  The AMTA promotes a vast amount of research exploring the benefits of music as therapy through publication of the Journal of Music Therapy, Music Therapy Perspectives and other sources. A substantial body of literature exists to support the effectiveness of music therapy.

Music Therapists must be board-certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists in order to practice.  In order to maintain their standing, therapists must complete 100 continuing education credits every 5 years.​

Some famous advocates for Music Therapy include Oliver Sachs, neurologist, researcher, and author of the book Musicophelia; Gabrielle Giffords, former Arizona Representative, who credits her music therapist for helping her recover her ability to speak while recovering from a gunshot wound to the head; Louis Armstrong, jazz musician, who founded the Armstrong Center for Music Therapy in New York City at Beth Israel Medical Center; and Ben Folds, popular rock star
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