About Music Therapy

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is “the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

Let’s break down that definition.

Evidence-Based Practice

Music therapy is a profession that utilizes evidence-based practice (EBP). For a profession to be “evidence-based,” it must incorporate three key components: clinical expertise, best available research, and client preference.

Clinical expertise refers to the professional’s expert knowledge attained throughout their experience in the profession. In this case, that would be a music therapist’s acquired knowledge. New music therapist have already acquired at least 1,200 hours of supervised clinical work by the time they have obtained their board certification. As a music therapist continues to practice, her expertise in the field grows. Utilization of this expertise is a key component in evidence-based practice.

Best available research is another important component of evidence-based practice. Professionals that effectively utilize EBP are constantly staying up to date in current research related to their field to ensure that their knowledge of applicable methods is up to date. Music therapy is not only presented in numerous academic journals, but also has journals dedicated solely to music therapy research. Two of those journals are The Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives.

The third key component to EBP is the client’s preference. It is of upmost importance to take client preference into consideration when developing a treatment plan. For example, if the client desires to prioritize improving emotional processing during his time in music therapy, then it is the therapist’s professional duty to keep that into consideration in all professional decisions regarding this specific client.

Evidence-based practice is integral in the profession of music therapy. Through use of EBP, a music therapist effectively performs in excellence within his or her scope of practice.

Individualized Goals

Music therapists have the professional training to work on a variety of different domain areas with their clients. Some examples of these domain areas include motor, socioemotional, cognitive, and communicative goals. What is unique about the music therapy scope of practice is that a music therapist can manipulate the elements of music to utilize the music as a tool to achieve these non-musical goals.

Let’s provide an example. Say a music therapist is working with a group of older adults in an assisted living facility. The staff of this facility has expressed that they believe it would be beneficial for the older adults to develop more authentic relationships with each other. The music therapist can use group singing and instrument play to develop group cohesion through a shared music experience. Choosing a song that is meaningful to the group, such as “Favorite Things” from the Sound of Music, the music therapist can then lead a group discussion about each individual’s favorite movies, activities, foods, etc.

By playing a song familiar to the group, the music therapist allows clients that enjoy singing to participate and experience group cohesion. By adding instrument play to this specific intervention, the music therapist also allows accessibility to individuals who are nonverbal or do not wish to sing to also be a part of this group cohesion exercise. Additionally, by leading the group in discussion about favorite movies/activities/food/etc, the music therapist is able to facilitate a meaningful group discussion that also promotes authentic relationships. Through training, a music therapist is able to use multiple elements of music to work on a the goal of developing meaningful relationships among group members.

Keep in mind, this is one example of many in which a music therapist can use music to work on a socioemotional goal. Furthermore, this example only touched on one domain area when a music therapist can cover several!

Credentialed Professional

The profession of music therapy requires all music therapist to acquire and maintain the Music Therapist-Board Certified credential through the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). In order to receive that certification, there are three steps that must be completed:

In order to sit for the CBMT examination, a candidate must complete all coursework at an American Music Therapy Association approved college program. The candidate must earn, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in music therapy. Music therapy students are required to not only be proficient musicians on multiple instruments, but also be proficient in therapeutic techniques, human physiology, psychology, and different diagnoses. Music therapy students are trained in how to manipulate musical elements to help clients achieve their various individualized goals.

The second step required to become a music therapist is to acquire at least 1,200 supervised clinical hours. Some of these hours are obtained during the university program through practicums, however, a bulk of these hours are acquired through a six month music therapy specific internship. Music therapy students are supervised by board-certified music therapists, and practice assessing, implementing, documenting, and revising real clients’ goals. Once these supervised clinical hours are documented through both the internship site and the university’s AMTA approved music therapy program, music therapy students are ready for the final step, passing the Certification Board for Music Therapist’s (CBMT) examination.

The CBMT exam is a certification exam that is comprised of 150 questions that go over safety considerations, client referrals, client assessment, assessment interpretation, treatment planning, client evaluation, termination of treatment, and professional responsibilities. Once a candidate passes this examination, she now receives the Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) credential and is officially a board-certified music therapist.

The MT-BC credential is accredited through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The NCCA also accredits licensure/certifications for occupational therapy, nursing, and various other professions.

It is of upmost importance that when considering hiring or contracting with a music therapist that he or she provides a current MT-BC credential. This ensures that the person providing music therapy services is adequately trained in providing services to vulnerable populations.

Music therapy is a vibrant, effective, and fun treatment modality for individuals in all stages of life! By implementing multiple different treatment modalities, individuals who live with life-altering diagnoses can experience a more enriched treatment process and find innovative ways to achieve their individualized goals.

If you have any questions regarding music therapy or how to find a music therapist in your area, be sure to visit www.musictherapy.org and the Certification Board for Music Therapists Therapist Database.