By Amanda Gilbert MT-BC, CBIS Staff Music Therapist at the Transitional Learning Center
Many people know of someone in their lives who has received music therapy services, and many have encountered videos or some like representation documenting music therapy methods and techniques. Music therapists can be found working with infants, children, adolescents, adults and elderly persons and may be called upon to assist those facing neurological conditions, specific psychiatric needs, developmental or learning disabilities, aging-related conditions, acute or chronic pain, the consequences of struggles with substance abuse, or the effects of more typical physical disabilities. Despite its rapid growth and wide application in the healthcare field, one of the most common questions any music therapist still receives is “What is music therapy?” The American Music Therapy Association tells us:
“Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation (American Music Therapy Association, 2013).”
So, what then does THAT mean? Let’s break this definition down:
“Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music…”
During the last 30 years, brain imaging has improved to the extent that it is now capable of showing us exactly what is happening when we are involved in listening to, creating, playing, or even reading music. These studies have found that the reactions generated in areas of the brain activated when we are engaged in these activities are not unique to musical stimuli, and that these areas therefore are not devoted exclusively to processing music-related information. They are used for other functions, too. When we complete musical tasks, we are helping our brain practice skills that are inevitably carried over into more classically functional areas (like moving, talking, and thinking). Research has shown that music participation drives plasticity in the human brain, which makes its auditory, learning, and motor areas interact more efficiently. Music therapists are charged with keeping up to date with current evidence supporting the clinical use of music and of incorporating the sources of that evidence into their practices.
“…use of musical interventions…”
During a typical music therapy session, you may see patients singing, drumming, listening to music, learning new instruments, or writing songs. There is no need for a person to have had a history of being involved in music in order for that person to benefit from MT. The music therapist will take all of a patient’s relevant strengths, barriers, and goals into consideration when designing these interventions.
“…to accomplish goals…”
While music therapy definitely can be fun, there is always an underlying goal to any activity. Music therapists create music interventions so as to address goals that can translate into beneficial changes seen in everyday life. They communicate with patients and their loved ones as well as with therapists from other disciplines currently treating those patients in order to determine which skills are most important to address, and to assign priority to the addressing of each one. Obtainable and measurable goals are then created with objectives acting as stepping stones to each subsequent accomplishment.
“…within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”
Board certified music therapists, holding the credential MT-BC, are qualified to practice anywhere in the United States. They have completed an approved college curricula (including an internship) and have passed the national examination offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Therapists can complete additional training in order to earn specializations in other areas including but not limited to Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT), Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU), Bonny Method of Guided Imagery (GIM), and Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy (NRMT). At the Transitional Learning Center, music therapy treatment is provided from an NMT-based perspective, focusing on the relationship between music and the brain.
“Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.”
Music therapists address goals designed to promote a healthy lifestyle, to decrease pain, to provide a much-needed emotional outlet, to assist in memory, to improve verbal and nonverbal communication, and to augment rehabilitation of physical ailments in specific muscle groups. Neurologic Music Therapists address motor, cognitive, and sensory goals engaged in efforts to combat neurological disease. These therapists are trained specifically in the science of music perception and production and in the effects of same on the non-musical brain. Because music engages multiple areas on both sides of our brains, NMTs can assist those who have difficulty with speech, walking, and in the moving of their hands or arms. This fact also leaves NMTs in an exceptional position to aid individuals in need when working to improve their attention, speed of processing, memory, and other like thinking skills.
Music therapy is a unique, evidence-based medium through which hundreds of thousands of people accomplish incredible goals each year. While the field is in its relative infancy, the future of MT looks bright as more individuals and facilities begin to learn the benefits it can provide.
For more information about music therapy or to find a music therapist, please look to the following websites:
American Music Therapy Association
The Certification Board for Music Therapists
The Center for Biomedical Research in Music
Learn about brain injury treatment services at the Transitional Learning Center: tlcrehab.org