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What is Music Therapy?

What is Music Therapy?

Mar. 1st, 2022

Music Therapy is the clinical use of music to help individuals explore their physical, cognitive, and social needs. Music therapy programs are given by industry professionals and allow individuals to work through different aspects of their life such as overall wellbeing, feelings, memory, stress, physical pain, and communication.

Music therapy can be an active or passive process depending on the music therapist’s approach. The main goals of music therapy are to help someone explore thoughts, emotions, and ideas through music. A music therapist may try one or several techniques depending on the client.

There are two different processes music therapists use to help their clients: the creative and receptive process. The creative process is when the individual works with the therapist to recreate music. The receptive process is when the therapist uses techniques that allow the individual to respond to sound, such as listening to music.1

Some music therapy techniques include:

  • Listening to music
  • Songwriting
  • Making music
  • Guided imagery
  • Dancing
  • Playing with instruments
  • Discussing music
  • Song improvisation

Why Try Music Therapy?

Music therapy has been found to have a positive effect on the mind, and research over the years has shown that the brain responds differently depending on the music. The varying aspects of music such as the pitch and melody are processed by different parts of the brain, which can play a role in influencing someone’s mindset.

Music therapy has also been found to influence neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s synaptic connections that influence how our brain adapts to change over time. Some of the neural systems that music therapy has a positive effect on include cognition, motor skills, and speech.2

The process of making music can help someone explore their thoughts and feelings through sound and the creative process.

Some of the benefits of music therapy include:3

  • Helping to recall memories
  • Activating emotions
  • Lowering heartrate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Relieving stress
  • Strengthening fine motor skills
  • Improving communication for those with disabilities

Who Can Benefit From Music Therapy?

Anyone of any age can benefit from music therapy. Music therapists will take into account a person’s age, cognitive ability, physical health, and goals when working to address their needs. Music therapy can be given in both individual and group settings depending on the goals of the person or group.

Music therapists work with people of different backgrounds and can be found in many healthcare and educational settings. Some people that music therapists commonly work with include children with disabilities, seniors, rehabilitation patients, individuals in correctional facilities, and military veterans.

Some conditions that music therapy can help with include:(4,3)

  • Alzheimer’s
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Autism
  • Behavior disorders
  • Cardiac conditions
  • Dementia
  • Depression
  • Physical health problems
  • Stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Trauma

What Qualifications Do Music Therapists Need?

Music therapists are individuals who are willing to work with people who have various health conditions and disabilities. It is common for music therapists to work on interdisciplinary teams that support the goals and needs of their clients.

In order to become a certified music therapist, it is required to have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy and complete 1200 hours of clinical training. It is also important to receive the degree from a certified American Music Association program. The bachelor’s coursework includes studying musical foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy foundations.5

After the bachelor’s degree is completed, music therapists will take the national board certification exam to test for their MT-BC (Music Therapist - Board Certified). Some states may have additional requirements in order to practice music therapy.

A Brief History of Music Therapy

Music therapy has been around for thousands of years, with experts finding mankind’s earliest instruments dating back to over 40,000 years ago. The use of music for therapeutic purposes dates back to Ancient Greece, and music therapy as we know it today began in the 20th century after World War II.6

In the 1940s, there were three individuals who promoted the idea of music therapy. Ira Altshuler, a psychiatrist and music therapist, promoted music therapy as a program in Michigan. Willem van de Wall wrote one of the earliest modern works on music therapy called Music in Institutions (1936), which was a how-to music therapy guide. E. Thayer Gaston, a man who is considered “the father of music therapy,” helped to organize music therapy as a profession and worked to integrate it into educational settings.7

Where Can You Find Music Therapy Programs?

There are many different music therapy programs that can be found within a local community. Some places that commonly have music therapy programs available include:

  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing homes
  • Juvenile detention facilities
  • Mental health centers
  • Private practices
  • Day care facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers

What Should You Consider Before Starting Music Therapy?

Before you enroll in a music therapy program, it’s important to consider several aspects:

  • Your Goals. What do you hope to achieve from music therapy? Are you looking to help overcome stress, work through trauma, or improve upon a mental condition? Figure out what you hope to achieve with music therapy so that way you can research and find a music therapist that suits your needs.
  • Find a Music Therapist. There are music therapists within your community who are available to help you find a music therapy program that meets your goals. Many accredited music therapists that you can reach to will work in healthcare settings or therapy offices.
  • Check Your Insurance. Music therapy programs may be partially or fully covered depending on your insurance. Check out what kinds of therapy programs you are able to afford by finding out what is covered through your insurance.
  • Be Open to Music Therapy. In order for music therapy to be effective, you will need to stay open to the program you enroll in. Keep an open mind as the music therapist guides you through the exercises. Work with your therapist to discuss your goals and progress.

Saber Healthcare and Music Therapy

Here at Saber Healthcare, we encourage you to seek out music therapy if you are an individual interested in exploring your thoughts and feelings through music. Music therapy can be a way that you can help achieve your goals and work on your physical, mental, and social needs.

In the past, Saber Healthcare has had music therapists help our residents discover themselves through music. Check out our interview with two of our music therapists to learn more about how music therapy can help those in rehabilitation settings.

Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.


  1. “What is Music Therapy?” University of Minnesota. Accessed 22 February 2022. Link:
  2. “Neurologic Music Therapy in Neurorehabilitation.” Brain Injury Association of America. Accessed 22 February 2022. Link:,through%20accessing%20shared%20neural%20systems.
  3. Wong Kathy. Gans, Steven. “What Is Music Therapy?” Dotdash, VeryWellMind. Accessed 22 February 2022. Link:,mental%20or%20physical%20health%20challenges.
  4. “Music Therapy.” Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 22 February 2022. Link:
  5. “Educational Requirements for Music Therapists.” American Music Therapy Association. Accessed 22 February 2022. Link:,Approved%20college%20and%20university%20programs.&text=In%20addition%20to%20the%20academic,training%2C%20including%20a%20supervised%20internship.
  6. Howland, Kathleen M. "Music therapy." Encyclopedia Britannica, 31 Aug. 2017. Accessed 22 February 2022.
  7. “History of Music Therapy.” American Music Association. Accessed 22 February 2022. Link: