What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a data-based allied health profession that uses music and music-based interventions to target non-music goals and objectives. Music therapy is an interactive form of treatment that uses a variety of live and recorded music, various instruments, sensory materials and more to help each client achieve their individualized goals and objectives in individual, group, and family sessions.

Music therapy is NOT simply listening to music on a set of headphones or putting on music to relax. It is not what happens when a special education teacher plays guitar or when a psychotherapist includes music in the therapeutic session. Music therapy is a highly specialized form of treatment that requires targeted study-simply put, music therapists are SPECIALISTS.

Who is a Music Therapist?

Music therapy is practiced around the world and as a result, training looks slightly different everywhere you go. In the United States, music therapists are individuals who have….

  • Completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy (or equivalency program) at an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) accredited college
  • Completed coursework in music (music theory, conducting, arranging, music history, composing, ear-training, sight-singing, etc.)
  • Completed coursework in psychology (general psychology, abnormal psychology, childhood development, statistics and analysis, etc.)
  • Completed coursework in music therapy (assessments, documentation and data analysis, intervention planning, termination planning, the clinical applications of music, anatomy and physiology, and how the brain responds to music)
  • Demonstrated proficiency in guitar, voice, and piano minimum (most music therapists play many other instruments!)
  • Completed a minimum of 1200 clinical training hours as a music therapist (typically including a 6-7 month intensive internship)
  • Passed the board certification exam administered through the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) earning them the credentials MT-BC (music therapist-board certified)
  • Earned 100 continuing education credits every five years they are board-certified.

In the state of Connecticut, music therapy is a protected title. Only board-certified music therapists may practice or say that they practice music therapy. As of October 2016, any individual who claims to practice music therapy without the credentials MT-BC can be charged with a Class D Felony.

What does music therapy work on?

The goals of music therapy vary widely from person to person. (To learn more about who music therapy can benefit, click HERE) At Infinity, we look at the whole person and not just the label of a diagnosis. Treatment can focus on pain management, cognition, motor skills, emotional literacy, social development, speech and language,  quality of life, and just about everything in between! A treatment plan may be laser focused on one domain area or may cover multiple areas of functioning. In addition, music therapy can offer some wonderful “side effects” as part of treatment. Individuals may walk away with additionally developed skill areas or the ability to play an instrument even if it wasn’t the intended focus of music therapy simply because music is a multi-sensory stimulus that impacts the brain in many ways. Broad goals in treatment may include:

  • To improve receptive language skills
  • To improve expressive communication skills
  • To improve social skills
  • To improve gait
  • To improve range of motion
  • To improve emotional literacy skills
  • To improve attention to task
  • To improve hand-eye coordination
  • To improve positive coping skills
  • To decrease perceived levels of stress
  • To decrease processing time
  • To improve quality of life
  • To improve pain management
  • To improve parent-child bonds
  • To improve memory recall
  • To improve academic skills
  • To improve peer relations
  • To process feelings of grief

What is the difference between music education and music therapy?

Music education focuses on the acquisition of music-based knowledge. This may include reading music, playing various rhythms, learning how to play an instrument, music theory, etc. Music therapy focuses on the acquisition of non-music skills. While a client may learn how to read music or play an instrument as a “side-effect” of music therapy, the focus is on non-music skills such as communication, coping skills, pain management, social skills, etc. Music educators may or may not have training how to adjust music to make it accessible for people with specialized needs. Music therapists are SPECIALISTS in this area and are HIGHLY trained in how to adapt music and instruments for individuals with special needs. In addition, music therapy is a related service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and can be a component of early intervention and special education services. Music education, unfortunately, is not a protected part of a child’s education.

What does a music therapy session look like?

Music therapy sessions are not “one-size fits all”. Each session is highly individualized based upon the learning style, strengths, musical preferences, and needs of the individual(s) receiving services. After all, it probably wouldn’t be the best choice to use “Old MacDonald” with a 58yr old man recovering from addiction, for example! Sessions may last 30, 45, or 60 minutes and may be conducted in an individual, group, or family setting. Sessions may be comprised of many smaller interventions or one intervention may last several weeks as part of a larger project. Live and recorded music may be used. Here are some interventions music therapists may implement in treatment (the list is not exhaustive!):
  • Therapeutic instrument play
  • Movement to music
  • Lyric Analysis
  • Song-writing
  • Adapted Music Lessons
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Therapeutic singing exercises
  • Drum and chant work
  • Song re-creation
  • Music Video Production
  • Imagination-based play through song
  • Books set to song
  • Toning
  • Life Review through Song
  • Drawing to music
  • Journaling to song
  • Guided Imagery

What instruments do music therapists use?

If you can shake, rattle, or roll it….a music therapist has probably used it! Music therapists use instruments in traditional and non-traditional ways (there is nothing like working on heel lifts by stepping on and off of a keyboard on the ground!). Some of the more popular instruments you may see us use include: guitar, keyboard, ukulele, egg shakers, maracas, tambourines, frame drums, sound shapes, boomwhackers, guiros, castanets, rhythm sticks, triangles, wood blocks, djembes, tubanos, congas, fruit shakers, rainsticks, thundertubes, jingle bells, and windchimes….just to name a few! We also use a variety of movement materials including scarves, buddy bands, and parachutes. We use visuals, children’s books, puppets, toys, art supplies, and more. We also celebrate the use of voice and body percussion in our work. The possibilities are endless! Music therapists pick instruments based upon the needs of the individual taking into consideration weight, size, color, and even what the instrument is made out of. We are mindful to choose instruments that are also age appropriate.

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Main Office:
196 Queen Street
Southington, CT 06489



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