Image by Photographer, Gavin Whitner

The Benefits of Music Therapy

People have recognized the healing power of music as far back as ancient cave drawings, depicting tribes in ritualistic music circles to help heal their sick. But what happens when the magic of music is tied to the science of therapy? Music therapy (MT), of course.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based application of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapists often have similar goals to occupational, speech, or physical therapists – which makes MT a popular complement to these more-common therapies, especially in pediatric populations.

Music Therapy History

The earliest published references to music therapy can be found in an unsigned article titled “Music Physically Considered” which led to writings on the therapeutic nature of music in two medical dissertations by Edwin Altlee (1804) and Samuel Mathews (1806).

There are extensive written accounts of the use of music by medical staff during WWI. Soldiers from the battlefield often carried more scars than were visible on their bodies. Doctors and nurses began to see physical and emotional changes in the patients who were either listening to local volunteer musicians or engaging in playing instruments.

In 1941, Harriet Ayer Seymour founded the National Foundation of Music Therapy. E. Thayer Gaston, known as the “Father of Music Therapy”, established of the first music therapy training program at Michigan State University in 1944. In 1950, the National Association for Music Therapy was founded and then the American Association Music Therapy in 1971. Both organizations remain crucial today in the establishment of university-level education, clinical training experiences, ongoing research, and a national Board Certification standard for all music therapists.

Where Do Music Therapists Work?

Music Therapists work with people from the very beginning of life all the way through end-of-life care. They work in schools, nursing homes, hospice programs, day care treatment centers for developmental disabilities, community mental health centers, drug & alcohol programs, and prisons. The list can go on and on. Where there is a therapeutic need, a music therapist can help.

What Do Music Therapists Do?
  • Meet the client where they are, creating music interventions to meet their individual needs each session.
  • Conduct assessments of physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs.
  • Use a variety of musical experiences in their sessions: playing rhythm instruments, singing, moving to music, song writing, lyric analysis, and many others.
Common Music Therapy Outcomes
  • Improved communication skills, such as expressive and receptive language, initiation of conversation, spontaneous language, and pre-learning skills (turn-taking, etc.).
  • Improved motor function, such as balance, spatial awareness, bi-lateral coordination, grasping objects, and sequencing of movements.
  • Improved emotional or behavior skills, such as sustained attention to task, eye contact, expression of emotion, participation, and compliance.
  • Improved cognitive skills, such as sustained attention/divided attention, processing multi-step directives, and mastering educational concepts (e.g. letters, colors, shapes, or symbols).
How Does Music Therapy Work?

Music stimulates the senses and is often called a kinesthetic process, by which a patient sees the music being played on an instrument, hears the music being played, and feels the music being played. Music is processed in both hemispheres of the brain and can stimulate cognitive functioning, creating multiple neural pathways during each music experience. Music is highly motivating and activities are designed to be success-oriented.

I’m looking forward to working in the CI community to answer your questions about MT and hopefully show you the difference it can make in the lives of our kids.

Written By:

Jill Kiesau, MT-BC, WMTR
Music Therapist