Music Therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. Music therapy improves the quality of life for persons who are well and meets the needs of children and adults with disabilities or illnesses. Music therapy interventions can be designed to:

  • promote wellness
  • manage stress
  • alleviate pain
  • express feelings
  • enhance memory
  • improve communication
  • promote physical rehabilitation.

Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in a wide variety of healthcare and educational settings.

What do music therapists do?

Music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses; design music sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs using music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music; participate in interdisciplinary treatment planning, ongoing evaluation, and follow up.

Who can benefit from music therapy?

Children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other aging related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain, including mothers in labor.

Where do music therapists work?

Music therapists work in psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, medical hospitals, outpatient clinics, day care treatment centers, agencies serving developmentally disabled persons, community mental health centers, drug and alcohol programs, senior centers, nursing homes, hospice programs, correctional facilities, halfway houses, schools, and private practice.

How can music therapy techniques be applied by healthy individuals?

Healthy individuals can use music for stress reduction via active music making, such as drumming, as well as passive listening for relaxation. Music is often a vital support for physical exercise. Music therapy assisted labor and delivery may also be included in this category since pregnancy is regarded as a normal part of women’s life cycles.

When can Music Therapy be used?

Music Therapy is practiced in virtually any location where its diagnostic and treatment tools are needed — hospitals, schools, geriatric facilities, birth centers, and correctional institutions to name a few. Some of the more common applications of Music Therapy are described in detail in the pages below.

  1. Medical Music Therapy
  2. Psychiatric Music Therapy
  3. Geriatric Music Therapy
  4. Music Therapy for Autism
  5. Music Therapy for the Developmentally Disabled
  6. Music Therapy Assisted Childbirth
  7. Music Therapy in Palliative/Hospice Care

Specific examples of popular music which can be used in therapy:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug Use
  • Anger Management
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder / Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD/ADD)
  • Behavior Management
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Depression
  • Domestic Violence
  • Eating Disorders
  • Grief & Loss
  • Self-Esteem
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Teen Issues

Music Therapy with Abused Children and Adolescents

Abuse is the physical, emotional, or sexual injury to an individual aged birth to 18 years of age. Such injury is often committed by a parent, a guardian, or other individual in the position of power.

Physical: burns, bruises, abrasions to the skin. Injuries to various parts of the body, fractures, the inconsistency or failure of an explanation for any of these types of injuries.

Emotional: In infants, failure to thrive or develop at a normal pace. In toddlers, signs of distrust, passive attitude or personality, overly concerned with pleasing adults. In school aged children, difficulties in developing relationships with peers, social withdrawal.

Sexual: Incest including father/daughter; mother/son; brother/sister. Other adult/child non-consensual sexual relationships.


May include poor self-esteem, withdrawal from friends and family, failure to thrive or develop, hyperactivity, over concern with pleasing adults, abusive behavior to self or others, difficulty developing relationships, weight loss or gain, physical injuries.

Music Therapy Goals

  • To improve self-esteem.
  • To increase expression of feelings.
  • To create non-abusive lifestyle.
  • To decrease stress and anxiety.
  • To decrease fear.
  • To promote independence.
  • To facilitate communication.
  • To develop coping skills during times of stress.
  • To improve social skills.

Functions of Music

  • As a relaxation agent.
  • As a stimulus for discussion of emotional and spiritual concerns.
  • As a means of communication.
  • To provide structure.

Music Therapy used to treat children with developmental delay

Music therapy is a relatively recent development in complementary health care which is commonly used to help children suffering from a wide range of psychological and learning disorders. Although many paediatricians acknowledge that creating and listening to music can be of considerable therapeutic value to children, particularly in encouraging communication skills, until very recently there had been no controlled studies to investigate the exact nature of any such benefits.

Researchers at the Institute for Music Therapy in Germany recently conducted a pilot crossover study involving 12 children between 4 and 6.5 years of age with developmental ages of between 1 – 3.5 years to monitor the effects of music therapy on the children’s mental development. The children were randomly selected to one of two groups; the children in the first group received individual music therapy for a period of three months, and the children in the second group were, during that period, used as a control group. But, for the subsequent three months, the children in the second group received music therapy whilst the children in the first group were used as controls.

The results, after the first three months, revealed significant developmental improvements including better hearing and speech, improved eye-hand co-ordination, and improved communications skills in the children in the music therapy group which were not seen in the control group. Furthermore, when the groups were reversed for the following three months, the second group who were then receiving music therapy were seen to catch in the those areas of development.

The researchers concluded that ‘music therapy seems to have an effect on personal relationship, emphasising positive benefits of active listening and performing, and this in turn sets the context for developmental change.’ It was also suggested that the hand-eye coordination which was required by the children when playing music was ‘a significant role in developmental changes’.

Sources: Music Therapy, Members

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