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.
Nowadays we have evidence for the practice and benefits of music therapy. It is an ever-growing field with presence all around the world. The situation looks better than ever before! So, what is it? The American Association of Music Therapists (AMTA) describes it 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.”
AMTA’s Definition of Music Therapy
Firstly, AMTA’s definition defines music therapy as “clinical.” Clinical makes us think right away of medicine, doctors, and hospitals. Music therapy is effective and based on evidence that comes from research and empirical observation. In other words, there is sound evidence that music helps people heal in many ways.
A music therapist employs different “music interventions” to address specific goals. Music therapists have a myriad of experiences at their disposal. Possible interventions are:
- Writing songs
- Directed music listening
- Music and relaxation exercises
- Lyric discussion
- Moving to music
- Creating recordings and videos
- Adapted instrument lessons
- And more!
Music therapists know which kind of activities will help a patient achieve his or her goals.
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.
Here in the United States a music therapy is one who is a “credentialed professional,” that is, somebody who has gone through an approved program and has successfully passed the appropriate examinations. This is necessary to ensure that music therapy as a profession remains a reputable and effective practice. It also helps ensure that the general population might recognize its importance.
Other Definitions of Music Therapy
Now, for another definition I like what music therapist Leslie Bunt says about music therapy. He says that “music therapy is the use of sounds and music within an evolving relationship between patient/participant and therapist to support and encourage physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual well-being.” In this short definition, Bunt first recognizes that it is always an evolving relationship that is involved in the therapeutic process. The word therapy comes from the Greek “therapeia, ” which means the human qualities of caring, attending and serving. Music is powerful by itself, but it is important to recognize that an evolving relationship will open channels of communication and will create trust, an essential element in the musical-therapeutic process. The trust created by a music therapist will allow the participant not only to listen with more intent, but also to listen better.
This definition also recognizes that it is not always patients in the strictest sense of the word that benefit from music therapy. Participants is a more encompassing word for it recognizes that the musical-therapeutic process can happen in a diverse range of scenarios. Bunt also recognizes that a music therapist encourages the well-being of a person in a holistic way that includes physical, mental, social, emotional and spiritual levels.
The music therapy profession encompasses a lot more than most people realize! Sam’s Fans focuses on programs that serve seriously ill patients and their families, but music’s power is used in many settings. I’m excited to be able to blog about it to help people see all the possibilities within this wonderful profession!