People tap the beat, sing along, play air guitar. Mothers hum lullabies to babies, armies march to its cadence, and composers tease and titillate the mind. Kids naturally move to its rhythm. Music is inspirational, sexy, soothing, and stirs every emotion. Music is a part of the human experience, one of the oldest forms of human connection and celebration. But what is music therapy?
Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional. Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.
After assessing the strengths and needs of each client (often children), the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Music therapy may include the use of behavioral, biomedical, developmental, educational, humanistic, adaptive music instruction, and/or other models.
Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.
The idea of music as a healing influence which could affect health and behavior is as least as old as the writings of Aristotle and Plato. The 20th century profession formally began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types, both amateur and professional, went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars.
The patients’ notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals. It was soon evident that the hospital musicians needed some prior training before entering the facility and so the demand grew for a college curriculum.
The earliest known reference to music therapy appeared in 1789 in an unsigned article in Columbian Magazine titled “Music Physically Considered.” In the early 1800s Dr. Benjamin Rush, a physician and psychiatrist became a strong proponent of using music to treat medical diseases. The 1800s also saw the first recorded music therapy intervention in an institutional setting (Blackwell’s Island in New York) as well as the first recorded systematic experiment in music therapy (Corning’s use of music to alter dream states during psychotherapy).
The first music therapy college training programs were created in the 1940s.Over the years, programs grew and expanded to training that is now credentialed. Today certified therapists implement services in a growing number of areas including crisis and trauma counseling, physical rehabilitation, stroke recovery, correctional and forensic settings, pain management, mental health and education interventions.
Music therapists in schools provide music therapy services listed on the Individualized Education Plan for students with disabilities. Music Therapy is considered a related service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Music learning is used to strengthen nonmusical areas such as communication skills and physical coordination skills which are important for daily life. One of the largest populations benefitting from musical therapy interventions is students whose disabilities fall on the Autism Spectrum.
Through music therapy, students learn verbal communication skills which may begin by singing song lyrics. Therapists can expand social interaction with peers by incorporating turn taking, choosing partners, asking and answering questions, and other interpersonal skills during songs. These social interaction skills often do not come naturally or easily to autistic spectrum learners.
Music therapy can be used in conjunction with components of additional therapeutic programs such as DIR to help students with developmental disabilities obtain life and educational milestones, develop internal regulation, and improve interpersonal relationships.
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