Historical Overview
Biomedical Theory of Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy, as broadly defined by the American Music Therapy Association, is "the prescribed use of music by a qualified person to effect positive changes in the psychological, physical, cognitive, or social functioning of individuals with health or educational problems" (AMTA 1999). It is the systematic application of music in the treatment of the physiological, psychological, and social aspects of an illness or disability. Music Therapy can be used as a diagnostic aid, to identify problem areas such as developmental delays, emotional/psychological issues, family interaction, feeling expression, pain management, and decreased environmental awareness, in both verbal and nonverbal persons. It can also reinforce other treatment modalities, such as occupational therapy and physical therapy. The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) recognizes music therapy as a professional service, separate from other professional services.

Who is qualified to practice Music Therapy?

Anyone who has graduated from one of the more than 70 colleges or universities with music therapy programs approved by the American Music Therapy Association and has completed a six-month internship in a chosen specialty is qualified to practice music therapy. Additionally, graduates from international music therapy programs with corresponding internship requirements are qualified practitioners. Board certified music therapists have passed a national certification board exam, administered by The Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). In order to maintain that certification, the music therapist completes 100 continuing music therapy education units every five years or prepares for and retakes the exam.

How is Music Therapy used in the hospital?

Music Therapy is used in hospitals to alleviate pain in conjunction with anesthesia or pain medication, elevate patients' moods and counteract depression, promote movement for physical rehabilitation, calm or sedate, induce sleep, counteract apprehension or fear, and lessen muscle tension for the purpose of relaxation, including the autonomic nervous system.

Where can Music Therapy be used in the hospital?

Music Therapy can be used in most areas of the hospital, such as Pediatrics, General Surgery, Obstetrics, and Oncology, lending to its affordability--the cost of hiring and equipping a Music Therapist can be shared by several different departments.

Why does Music Therapy have such a powerful effect?

The answer lies in the influence that music has over the emotions. Music influences human behavior by affecting the brain (eg. the limbic system and the hypothalamus) and subsequently other bodily structures in ways that are observable, identifiable, measurable, and predictable, thereby providing the necessary foundation for therapeutic applications.

Why can't I just play a tape?

Part of the benefit that Music Therapy produces is based on therapeutic resonance--that is, the relationship that the Music Therapist builds with the patient. Music Therapists also use improvisational, creative, and experiential music, in addition to the receptive form of music. In addition, there are individual response stereotypes to consider with each patient which account for the variety in biological responses to music stimuli. Music Therapists are trained to recognize these factors and to use them in formulating their treatment plans.

What hospitals already have Music Therapy programs?

Wolfson Children's Hospital in Jacksonville, FL; St. Luke's Medical Center in Cleveland, OH; University Hospital in Cleveland, OH; University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Des Moines, IA; Scripps Hospitals in San Diego, CA; Sharps Hospitals in San Diego, CA; St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, MD; and Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, NY are just a few of the hospitals that have Music Therapy programs currently in place.

Frequently Asked Questions

"Music therapy... is the systematic application of music in the treatment of the physiological, psychological, and social aspects of an illness or disability."

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Rana Zellner Burr, MT-BC
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"Music Therapists use improvisational, creative, and experiential music, in addition to the receptive form of music."

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