So you may be asking yourself, what is music therapy

So, you might be asking yourself, "What exactly is music therapy?" 

This comes as no surprise to me and the numerous colleagues and mentors who have been asked similar questions by various people.  Whenever I am asked this question, I always find myself searching for all of the ways to describe a profession that has a bounty of therapeutic potential.  Some of the comments I have received in the past 4 1/2 years include: "so, you play instruments with people?", "Is it kind of like massage therapy?", and "Do your client's perform?".  Interestingly enough, music therapy encompasses all of the three but not in the way that many people would expect.  

A music therapist can play instruments with clients and vice versa. However, instrumental performance is not the only music-based activity used for therapeutic sessions.  Musical experiences are based on the needs of the client, the progression of each session, the diagnosis and/or functioning level of clients, and the preferences of the client/s.  Common music therapy experiences include: songwriting, musical improvisation, musical performance, listening to music, and progressive music and muscle relaxation.  The musical experience serves as the therapeutic 'medium' and helps transform the experience and allows the client to explore and work on areas of need or goals in a less threatening atmosphere.  

Music Therapy is the therapeutic use of musical-based activities by a board-certified and credentialed professional with clients who have specific goals and needs.  

The music therapy process for individual clients involves an assessment, therapeutic sessions(w/data recording), and a re-evaluation process.  The therapeutic process can be cyclical with the process reoccurring.  

Therapeutic goals and music therapy experiences vary based on the clients diagnosis.  For instance, if you are working with a school-age child with an autism spectrum diagnosis, the goals may be more IEP-specific (e.g., communication, social skills, academic skills) or encompass life skills.  the musical preferences would be assessed prior to the start of music therapy sessions and the experiences and instruments that gage the child's interest would be used.  An example of a music-centered therapeutic intervention would be singing and vocal exercises for communication goals (more to come in a different blog)

For clients suffering from physical ailments, a music therapist would utilize relaxation experiences in a receptive manner (e.g., listening to a recording or a music therapist playing a relaxing grounding accompaniment).  The client would in most cases serve an active role, facilitating verbal relaxation instructions and helping the client enter and remain in a relaxed state.  

Music Therapy also can serve to explore and help clients deal with emotions and life circumstances.  For instance, if a client is struggling with depression from the recent discovery of a parents divorce, the music therapist would work with the client to devise musical activities that help explore the feelings, support the client, and look towards a future.  Musical experiences might include a songwriting experience to discuss the event, a listening and lyrical analysis of a song that describes abandonment or divorce, and a musical improvisation experience to explore unconscious feelings (based on the Improvisation Assessment Profile).  These interventions can also be used for adult clients dealing with a plethora of emotional issues including depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse.  

I have explained what music therapy is in a nutshell, but I am aware that I might not have answered all of the questions running through your heads.  In my next blog, I will give a definition of music therapy based on long-tenured music therapists and how that fits with the descriptions that I have provided.  If you would like to hear more, please contact me or follow my Facebook page: ;

Thank you, 


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Comment by Jeremy Edler on October 21, 2014 at 11:37am

Typo, the therapist, not the client would facilitate relaxation. 


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