What is Music Therapy?

By Kari Johnson - 10/19/2023


Definition of 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.  Music therapy interventions can address a wide variety of healthcare and educational goals” (American Music Therapy Association www.musictherapy.org

Definition of a Music Therapist: 

Music Therapists’ objectives are to determine and utilize music therapy approaches that effectively aid in the restoration, maintenance, and improvement in mental and physical health.  Music Therapists believe in the dignity and worth of every person. They promote the use of music in therapy, establish and maintain high standards in public service, and require of themselves the utmost in ethical conduct.” (American Music Therapy Association www.musictherapy.org

  • Must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an AMTA approved college/university
  • Must hold the MT-BC credential issues through the Certification Board for Music Therapists and requires continuing education. Some states require licensure
  • Evidence-based health profession with a strong research foundation
  • Music Therapy degrees require knowledge in psychology, medicine, and music

I became a board certified Music Therapist in 2006 and have maintained my credentials ever since. At PCS, I am supported in combining my doctorate of psychology with my music therapy board certification.

Potential Goals:

  • Improve communication
  • Stress management
  • Promote wellness
  • Pain reduction
  • Emotional expression and regulation
  • Enhance memory
  • Improve social interaction and teamwork
  • Increase self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, and self-compassion


  • Has been used in the Unites States since the late 18th century to treat physical and mental ailments – usually musicians who played for the patients
  • The concept became increasingly popular with returning WWI and WWII veterans
  • 1940’s = began the formal organization and education systems for MT
  • 1950’s = primarily worked within the mental health field
  • 1960’s = expanded to include sensory impairment; developmental and physical disabilities
  • 1970’s = included geriatric, medical conditions, those incarcerated
  • 1983 = Certification Board of Music Therapy was founded
  • Current = work in all settings, with all people, an abundance of interventions, and for all reasons.

Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT):

  • NMT was researched and developed by the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy in Fort Collins, Colorado.  Dr. Michael Thaut, PhD
  • 1999 = The first certification program of NMT was held
  • “Treatment techniques are based on the scientific knowledge of music perception and production and the effects of nonmusical brain and behavior functions.”
  • There are six key areas of focus:  Speech & Language, Sensorimotor, Cognition, Memory, Executive Function, and Psychosocial Behavior
  • There are 20 different interventions within NMT

Potential interventions:

  • Musical improvisation
  • Songwriting
  • Lyric analysis
  • Guided imagery through music
  • Music and movement
  • Music listening
  • Vocal warmups/breathing exercise for breath support
  • Identifying emotions in music
  • Exploring mental health through music
  • Exploring addiction through music
  • Internal cadence
  • Playing an instrument

Resources to learn more about Music Therapy and impacts:

  • American Music Therapy Association: www.musictherapy.org
  • An Introduction to Music Therapy: Theory and Practice by William B. Davis
  • Every Brain Needs Music: The Neuroscience of Making and listening to Music by Larry S. Sherman and Dennis Plies
  • How Music Heals Us by Kim Cannan
  • Music Heard so Deeply by Betsey King
  • Musicophilia: Tales of music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
  • Music Therapy: A Look into the World of Healing Sound by Angelo Molino This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin

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