Music Therapy

Music Therapy FAQ

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 who has completed an approved music therapy program. (American Music Therapy Association definition, 2005)

A board certified music therapist uses elements of music (e.g. melody, rhythm, tempo, dynamics) combined with individually designed interventions to meet non-musical goals. These creative and motivating interventions can include singing, instrument play, movement, listening and improvisation. Through music, clients will develop important social, communication, cognitive, physical and emotional skills that transfer into daily life. Music therapy is a goal-driven, evidence-based practice that includes assessment, treatment planning, and documentation.

Music therapy may address goals such as:

  • Improving verbal and non-verbal communication skills
  • Improving social skills
  • Improving fine/gross motor skills
  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Promoting emotional expression
  • Increasing sensory awareness/ tolerance
  • Improving attention
  • Increasing positive behaviors
  • Improving cognitive functioning
  • Promoting wellness
  • Managing stress
  • Alleviating pain
  • Enhancing memory
  • Improving academic skills

What do music therapists do?

Music therapists assess emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills through musical responses; design music sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs using music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and learning through music; participate in interdisciplinary treatment planning, ongoing evaluation, and follow up. (AMTA, 2015)

How is a music therapist qualified?

A music therapist must complete:

  • an approved bachelors, equivalency, or masters music therapy degree
  • 1,200 clinical training hours
  • Music therapy internship
  • MT-BC (Music Therapist - Board Certified) credential - national examination
  • Continuing Education through the Certification Board for Music Therapists (
  • Board-certified music therapists must meet and uphold over 100 competencies in professionalism, relationships, research, business, education, and ethics. Read the American Music Therapy Association’s complete Code of Ethics.

Where does a music therapist work?

A music therapist may work in places such as:

  • agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities
  • school districts
  • psychiatric hospitals
  • rehabilitative facilities
  • medical hospitals
  • outpatient clinics
  • day care treatment centers
  • community mental health centers
  • drug and alcohol programs
  • senior centers
  • nursing homes
  • hospice programs
  • correctional facilities
  • halfway houses
  • private practices

What does a music therapy session look like?

Music therapists will start by assessing a patient. Through the assessment process, the music therapist determines the patient's strengths and needs. The music therapist then designs musical activities to achieve those non-musical goals through music. Because music therapists work with such a variety of populations, no two sessions will look exactly alike. However, sessions will always be individually designed based on the client or group’s treatment plan. Data collection and documentation are also essential for the success of music therapy sessions and treatment.

Interventions in a music therapy session can include:

  • singing
  • instrument play
  • music and movement
  • music listening
  • lyric analysis
  • improvisation
  • songwriting
  • guided imagery
  • music performance
  • music and art

Why does music therapy work?

Music therapy works because of the way music stimulates the entire brain. In additional to this stimulation, music also touches people emotionally. Almost everyone enjoys music, making it an ideal approach. The more research is done, the more it supports the use of music to treat non-musical challenges.

AMTA promotes a vast amount of research exploring the benefits of music as therapy through publication of the Journal of Music Therapy, Music Therapy Perspectives and other sources. A substantial body of literature exists to support the effectiveness of music therapy. (

A summary of music therapy research in such journals can be found at the Music Therapy Research Blog, written by Dr. Blythe LaGasse.

Who can music therapy benefit?

Music therapy can be effective for anyone who responds positively to music, no matter what their musical skills or experiences are. Music therapists are trained to work with clients at any age, from the beginning to the end of life. However, not everyone responds to music or music-based interventions in the same way. Music therapists honor and recognize each client’s uniqueness, whether it’s their age, abilities, diagnoses, cultural background, life experiences, or relationship with music. Music therapists use personalized interventions and evidence-based approaches that are the most relevant to a person’s treatment goals and quality of life.

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