What is Music Therapy? Definition, History, Approaches, Techniques and Benefits Explained
You are sick of all the noises and worries in your head.
You know it might be time to seek help.
But you are scared. You don’t know what to expect. Nor do you feel ready to spill your darkest secrets to someone you don’t know. But you are also sick of bottling up all your feelings.
You wish there is something else that can help you.
Maybe something, or someone, that helps you cope with your emotions, soothe your soul, and just.. make it better.
Great news for you: you have come to the right place!
This, might be exactly what you need.
You know, THAT song which helped you go through a difficult time. How you felt better after singing, rapping, or playing your favourite instrument.
This CAN be therapy – with the help of a music therapist – to improve your mental health and well-being.
In this article, I am answering all your music therapy questions here, with a bit of history and research sprinkled on top of them.
What is Music Therapy? 🎵
Music therapy is a research-based allied health profession in which music is used to support people with their non-musical goals, in order to improve their physical and mental health, well-being and functioning.
Here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy, I have a simpler, one-line vision:
I help people improve health and wellbeing through music.
Sure, music therapy more than that, since one can argue that their quality of life is improved by attending concerts (don’t we all miss that?). Keep reading, I will explain more in this article.
Music Therapists and Training
Music therapy is brought to you by qualified music therapists. They support people of any age, ability and background by tailoring music therapy sessions to different needs and goals.
In Australia, qualified music therapists are called Registered Music Therapists (RMTs) who completed a certified university course in music therapy and are registered with the Australian Music Therapy Association (AMTA). In Canada and the United States, they are called Certified Music Therapist (Accredited) (MTA) registered under the Canadian Association of Music Therapists (CAMT) or the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). The Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) is a separate organisation from AMTA to govern Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC).
Brief History of Music Therapy 📓
The idea of using music as a healing experience began after World War II when community musicians went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for veterans who suffered from physical and emotional trauma from the wars. Different physical and emotional responses were observed by doctors and nurses, hence musicians got hired by hospitals to bring benefits to patients. Over the years, it developed and was spread all around the world.
You can read more about the history of the Australian Music Therapy Association here https://www.austmta.org.au/about-us/amta-history/.
Music Therapy Approaches 🧐
There are different music therapy frameworks and orientations. The main goal is always related to health and well-being, however there are many ways to use music, collect data and interact with clients etc. There is no right or wrong in each approach. Some music therapists stick to only one approach, but many form an eclectic approach, drawing the advantages of multiple frameworks to design the best treatment possible for clients.
Music therapy approaches include:
- Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy (Creative Music Therapy)
- Neurologic Music Therapy
- Resource-Oriented Music Therapy
- Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM)
- Vocal Psychotherapy
- Analytic/Psychodynamic Music Therapy
- Behavioural Music Therapy
- Community Music Therapy
- Developmental Music Therapy
- Culture-Centred Music Therapy
- And more!
Depending on the approach and setting, different psychological concepts influence music therapy to a certain extent. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Music Therapy is based on the tenets of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Lyrics analysis might be used in a session to change the thought patterns of a client.
Other concepts and theories play a role in music therapy as well. I came across with the Polyvagal Theory a while ago and it informed me in planning mindfulness music activities with patients who suffered from traumas.
Here in Strike A Chord Music Therapy, I employ a positive psychology-informed, client-centred, resource-oriented approach in my work. This means I focus on clients’ strengths and utilise every resource that s/he brings into the music therapy session.
Music Therapy Techniques 🎸
According to Bruscia (1), there are four main music therapy methods. Move your cursor to read more!
The client makes up music while playing or singing: creating a melody, rhythm, song or instrumental piece
The client learns, sings, plays or performs pre-composed music or reproduces any kind of musical form (includes structured music activities and games)
The therapist helps client to write songs, lyrics or instrumental pieces, or to create any kind of musical product. The client is in charge of most creative processes while the therapist handles the technical aspects
The client listens to music and responds to the experience silently, verbally or in another modality
What Are the Benefits of Music Therapy? 💛
Music therapy provides a wide range of benefits and addresses a number of goals:
A gift for you... 🎁
Who Do Music Therapists Work With?👶🏼🧑🏻👵🏽👩🏻🦽👨🏻🦯
Music therapists work in many settings:
- Palliative care facilities
- Residential aged care homes
- Community health programs
- Private practice (just like here at Strike A Chord Music Therapy!)
- And more
Take a look at the different populations served by music therapy (2):
What Does a Typical Music Therapy Session Look Like? 🎹
It is entirely up to you! As I mentioned, music therapy is tailored to suit different clients’ needs and goals. No two sessions are the same.
Here in Strike A Chord Music Therapy, everything you bring into the sessions – whether it be your passion, stories, instruments, secret dance moves.. these are all your resources we can utilise to make your mental health journey a lot more fun and enjoyable 🤪.
When Should I See a Music Therapist?👩🏻🎤
Whenever you need help! Typically, if you love music, would like to seek mental health improvement but did not benefit from talking therapies before, why not try a session and see for yourself?
How is Music Therapy Different to Music Lessons or Entertainment? 👩🏻🏫
Learning a new instrument, attending concerts or just jamming with your mates might get you similar results:
- Positive mood
- Enhanced memory
- Improved quality of life
- Strengthened social connection
You might then ask, why do I need music therapy then?
There are 2 distinctions between music therapy and other music-related activities:
1. The Presence of a Music Therapist
As discussed in the definition, music therapy is an allied health profession. Similar to occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech pathology, music therapy requires the presence of a professional. Music therapists guide you in your health recovery journey. More importantly, the relationship between you and your music therapist is considered crucial.
Music is not just a means being used to improve your health, but also a medium for you to explore your emotions, musicality and transform (3). Through music, there is a special bonding built between you and your music therapist. This is something you don’t get from music lessons or watching your favourite YouTuber singer cover a song.
Shower you with all my attention
Yeah, these are my only intentions
“Intentions” – Justin Bieber ft. Quavo
Your intention matters.
In music therapy, the #1 goal is to improve health and well-being. In music lessons, learning instruments is the goal. When you attend a concert, you intend to be entertained. The social connection, improved memory etc. are just by-products. The end goal is the difference.
Yes, you might get some health-related or intangible benefits from your music lessons and entertainment, but that is not music therapy. Your primary goal and intention is not to improve your health. But in music therapy, the goal is health-oriented. And that is achieved through music, and the relationship between you and your music therapist.
If you still have doubts, think about the following scenarios:
- What is the difference between talking to a friend about my problems vs consulting a therapist?
- What is the difference between jogging and weightlifting by myself vs working out with a physiotherapist?
- What is the difference between improving my articulation in singing with a singing coach vs working with a speech pathologist?
- What is the difference between listening to my favourite songs alone vs active music listening in a music therapy session?
How is Music Therapy Different to Sound Healing/Therapy? 🥁
It is getting more complicated and ambiguous, isn’t it? Now, both music therapy and sound healing have the intention to improve one’s well-being through music, and both can engage the client in the music-making process.
Sound healing uses specific frequencies and vibrations to balance our bodies – including our organs, bones and tissues etc., mind and energy. Different soundwaves trigger different responses in our brains. Typical tools used in Sound Healing include singing bowls, gong, rainstick.
On the other hand, music therapy uses all the musical elements you can find – rhythm, melodies, harmonies, valence, velocity, dynamics etc. as a means to address a specific health outcome with active participation of clients. Any instrument can be used.
Other differences include the fact that music therapy is part of allied health professions, where trained therapists are registered with and regulated by an organisation and are expected to adhere to the code of conduct.
Personal note: I started learning the handpan in 2018 and had never heard about music therapy until one year later. The more I study, the more fascinated I am by music therapy. I am sure there is plenty of research and evidence around sound healing too, but I am personally more inclined to the science and research around music therapy, in particular neurologic music therapy.
Do I Need to Know How to Play Musical Instruments in Order to Participate in Music Therapy?🎸
Absolutely no! Anyone can benefit from music therapy. Music therapists will plan the sessions based on where you are at. Each session is tailored to your goals and needs. All you need to do is be present, and enjoy. 😉
Does Insurance Cover Music Therapy?💼
Music therapy is fighting for more recognition in both workplaces and insurance. It varies, depending on your location and insurer. Please visit the following websites, or contact your insurer for more information:
Music Therapy and NDIS in Australia
Meanwhile in Australia, music therapy is recognised by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as a professional Allied Health therapy under “Therapeutic Supports”. This means music therapy can be funded through NDIS if you meet certain criteria. Visit this website for more information.
NOTE: Strike A Chord Music Therapy is NOT an NDIS provider. However, if you are on a self-managed NDIS plan, you can choose any service provider you see fit. That means you can book sessions with me using your NDIS fund if your fund is self-managed. If you wish to contact an NDIS-registered music therapy provider, you can do a search here with AMTA.
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Final Words 💬
I hope this answers most of your burning questions about music therapy! If there is anything about music therapy or mental health that you want to know, feel free to leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With everything being said, it’s better to see it in action to understand what music therapy really is. Keen to try music therapy? book your first 30-min session here for free:
(1) Bruscia, K. E., (2014). Defining Music Therapy (3rd ed.)