What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is defined as the skilful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to promote, maintain, and restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Music has nonverbal, creative, structural, and emotional qualities. These are used in the therapeutic relationship to facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development.[1]

Music generates therapeutic effects in music therapy applications with any type of conditions or disorder seen by a music therapist, the focus must be the brain and body connection. This clear conclusion is based on the inescapable fact that literally all of the work that music therapists do is ultimately aimed at changing some type of behaviour, which can only occur with changes in the functions of specific biological structures of the human body, all of which are determined either directly or indirectly by the brain. Such change begins with the brain, which is why music therapy is possible since;

Music activates vast areas of neural tissue in the brain, enlisting much more of the brain’s power for use in accomplishing any given task
Music changes neural impulse patterning in the brain, allowing the brain to function differently than it would without music.

Music therapy interventions can be defined according to a basic principle that is applicable to the full range of client populations served: Because the human brain must first interpret any sound as ‘music’ before there can be a ‘musical’ influence, and because every client has a brain that must change its ways of doing things in order for therapy to take place, the human brain must be recognized as the basic domain of treatment and the primary focus for change in all music therapy applications. Music has observable effects on human behaviour through its influences on brain functions; therefore its effects can be used therapeutically. [2]

Connecting In Rhythm standards of practice include;

  • Accepting referrals for music therapy services from medical, developmental, mental health, and education professionals; family members; clients; caregivers; or others involved and authorized with provision of client services. Before providing music therapy services to a client for an identified clinical or developmental need, the music therapist collaborates, as applicable, with the primary care provider(s) to review the client’s diagnosis, treatment needs, and treatment plan. During the provision of music therapy services to a client, the music therapist collaborates, as applicable, with the client’s treatment team;

  • Conducting a music therapy assessment of a client to determine if treatment is indicated. If treatment is indicated, the music therapist collects systematic, comprehensive, and accurate information to determine the appropriateness and type of music therapy services to provide for the client;

  • Developing an individualized music therapy treatment plan for the client that is based upon the results of the music therapy assessment. The music therapy treatment plan includes individualized goals and objectives that focus on the assessed needs and strengths of the client and specify music therapy approaches and interventions to be used to address these goals and objectives;

  • Implementing an individualized music therapy treatment plan that is consistent with any other developmental, rehabilitative, habilitative, medical, mental health, preventive, wellness care, or educational services being provided to the client;

  • Evaluating the client’s response to music therapy and the music therapy treatment plan, documenting change and progress, and suggesting modifications, as appropriate;

  • Developing a plan for determining when the provision of music therapy services is no longer needed in collaboration with the client, physician, or other provider of health care or education of the client, family members of the client, and any other appropriate person upon whom the client relies for support;

  • Minimizing any barriers to ensure that the client receives music therapy services in the least restrictive environment;

  • Collaborating with and educating the client and the family, caregiver of the client, or any other appropriate person regarding the needs of the client that are being addressed in music therapy and the manner in which the music therapy treatment addresses those needs; and

  • Utilizing appropriate knowledge and skills to inform practice including use of research, reasoning, and problem solving skills to determine appropriate actions in the context of each specific clinical setting.  [3]

[1] Canadian Association of Music Therapy, May 6, 1994

[2] Taylor, Dale, Biomedical Foundations of Music as Therapy 2nd Edition, Barton Publications, 2010, p. 38, 46

[3] American Music Therapy Association, Scope of Music Therapy Practice, 2015