Music Therapy

What is music therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association  (AMTA) defines music therapy as “the clinical and 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.”

Music therapy is clinical, effective, and based on evidence coming from research and empirical observation. In other words, there is sound evidence that music therapy works! Music therapists work with many different populations, addressing diverse goals, and basing their work on hundreds of studies throughout a decades-long history. Read on to learn about how music therapy works, how it looks like, and more.

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What Do Music Therapists Do?

Music therapists use music to accomplish individualized goals. They use music with a really specific goal in mind. A music therapist has training to come up with the best plan and music intervention to accomplish that goal. And it is all within a therapeutic relationship, a relationship in which the patient/participant can feel safe, welcome, and understood. Music Therapists use a wide variety of music and musical experiences in their sessions. A patient undergoing music therapy treatment may participate in:

  • Harper Mackall 2

    Re-creative experiences

    Playing instruments


    Learning songs

  • Natasha's video coming April 12th!

    Compositional Experiences

    Writing songs

    Creating recordings and videos

  • Proposal request for UH Rainbow

    Receptive Experiences

    Directed music listening

    Music and relaxation exercises

    Lyric discussion

  • Natasha's video coming April 12th!

    Improvisational Experiences

    Moving to music

    Playing instruments


How Does Music Therapy Help?

Music therapy is an evidence-based practice. There are thousands of studies researching the effects of music therapy with many different populations. Some ways in which music therapy helps are:

  • Promoting Wellness
  • Managing Stress
  • Alleviating Pain
  • Expressing Feelings
  • Enhancing Memory
  • Improving Communication
  • Promoting Physical Rehabilitation

And many more!

History of Music Therapy

Music therapy is a relatively new field, but one worth knowing about. Music is central to our societies today as much as it was millennia ago. The survival of Palaeolithic cave-paintings and flutes made of bone suggests that people danced to some form of music. Cultures in the ancient world used music both in their daily lives and in healing rituals and methods.


“The use of music to influence the human body was first mentioned in writing in Egyptian medical papyri dating back to 1500 BCE”

– Roland Benenzon


Greco-Roman, Arabian, Indian and Chinese traditions of learned medicine all include various notions of musical therapy. Stories such as the story of David playing his harp to the troubled Saul also provide evidence of this. Read more about the history of music therapy here.

Impact Stories

Perhaps the best way to understand music therapy is through stories! We have a page dedicated to impact stories, including music and art therapy, here. For now, we share with you a few examples:

Sam's Fans and Music Therapy

Sam’s Fans’ goal is to share what music therapy is and does so that we can to bring more joy and comfort to those who need it as well as help the special people who provide these services. Not only was Sam McCarthy (the inspiration behind Sam's Fans) a direct recipient of music therapy, but it impacted each of us along the way. We can not think of a more appropriate way to honor her life than by sharing what she loved with the world!

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