You may have heard the term music therapy without giving it much thought. Is it about playing music, singing, or listening to music? Is it something that caregivers and families can try on their own or does it require a professional music therapist? Who can benefit from it? Using music as part of a therapeutic treatment plan has been gaining in popularity in recent years.

According to the American Music Therapy Association website, examples of patients who can benefit from music therapy and the possible outcomes include older adults to lessen the effects of dementia, children and adults to reduce asthma episodes, hospitalized patients to reduce pain, children who have autism to improve communication capabilities, premature infants to improve sleep patterns and increase weight gain, and people who have Parkinson’s disease to improve motor function.

One distinction that should be made when considering music therapy is the difference between music therapy and therapeutic music. According to the AMTA, “Clinical music therapy is the only professional, research-based discipline that actively applies supportive science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals.” Certified music therapists are required to have a degree in music therapy from an AMTA approved college which includes studies in music, medicine, and psychology and 1200 hours of clinical training. Music therapy is used in clinical settings with measurable outcomes set as goals.

In comparison, therapeutic music can refer to any musical activity that promotes health and wellness such as musicians playing at nursing homes, caregivers playing recorded music for their loved ones, neonatal nurses playing soothing music or parents singing to premature babies. Anyone can use music therapeutically but there is training for musicians who are interested in using their craft to help promote health in others. The National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians is an organization that consists of therapeutic music professionals who “develop and maintain standards for therapeutic musician training programs and their graduates”.

According to NSBTM only live music should be used to promote healing. The purpose is not to entertain but to promote healing by using music in a holistic way to bring balance to the patient, caregivers and family. Live music is preferred because it lends a personal touch, it can be changed easily to meet the needs of the patient, and because of the rich spectrum of harmonics and vibrations that is intrinsic to acoustic music.

Vibration is thought to be beneficial to healing. A study looking at vibration and healing was led by Lee Bartel, PhD, a music professor at the University of Toronto and author of This Is Your Brain on Music in which he discusses the neuroscience of music therapy. Bartel and other researchers tested how vibrations administered directly to the body can promote healing in patients with Parkinson’s disease, Fibromyalgia and depression with promising results.

A lot can be said for the personal touch. We all seem to appreciate a doctor or nurse with a good bedside manner and likewise live music lends that personal touch. Even premature babies seem to know the difference. Singing lullabies instead of playing recorded music was found to be more beneficial to premature babies.

Whether you have a trained music therapist, therapeutic musician, or rely on recorded music the benefits of incorporating music into therapy can aid healing and add comfort for you and and your loved one.

Sources

Bumanis, Al. "AMTA Press Release on Music Therapy." American Music Therapy Association. AMTA, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2017.

Loewy, Joanne. "The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs, Feeding, and Sleep in Premature Infants." The Effects of Music Therapy on Vital Signs. N.p., 13 May 2013. Web. 09 Feb. 2017

Novotney, Amy. "Music as medicine." American Psychological Association. Accessed February 09, 2017. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/11/music.aspx