Music Therapy

What Is Music Therapy?

Did you know the sensory experience of music can wake up every area of your brain simultaneously? Music has a powerful effect on the human body and the emotions, thoughts, and physical abilities we experience through it. That power is harnessed by music therapists to help people deal with inner conflict, emotional issues, and traumatic experience.

Sometimes feelings leave us tongue-tied, or our words fall short of what we wish to convey. The nonverbal language of rhythm and song creates a detour around verbal road blocks and helps music therapists assess and communicate with their clients. To benefit you do not need a musical background. Even tone-deaf people use this type of counseling.

Music therapy is used to:

  • Explore feelings and express them non-verbally, and to enhance positive feelings, behaviors, and attitude.
  • Improve awareness of the self, the surrounding environment, and to experience a healthy sense of control or mastery.
  • To develop relaxation, problem solving, and decision making skills.
  • To promote social interaction and conflict resolution through cooperation.

Even our everyday experience with music verifies its healing effects. If you are tired, or feeling blue, try walking to a CD of Sousa marches, or dance around the family room to The Blue Danube waltz by Strauss. Your mood will lift, a little or a lot, as the body responds to rhythm, melody, and movement.

Therapists use music either as a creative, or a receptive process. The creative process involves engaging clients to produce improvisational music, to play musical instruments, or use the voice. The act of making music is therapeutic in itself, and provides the counselor with assessment information gleaned by observation.

Using the receptive process, clients listen to music for relaxation, to uplift mood, or to discuss feelings or ideas triggered by the sounds. Both processes work well with individuals, couples, families, or groups.

This profession began after the World Wars of the 20th century. Community musicians played for the soldiers at veteran’s hospitals, and the positive imprint of music was noticed.

Clinical research has verified that music:

  • Reduces aggression, symptoms of psychosis, anxiety, and tension.
  • Shifts brain activity to the left frontal lobe that is responsible for positive outlook and mood.
  • Increases interpersonal skills, and motivation.

In couples and family counseling, music therapy helps professionals notice established behavior patterns. Each person receives opportunity to have their musical “say,” and making music elicits cooperation between those in conflict. Music is also used to treat physical illnesses or disabilities, addictions, and chronic pain.

Music therapy is effective because our bodies react predictably to sound and rhythm. Our mental interpretations of a piece of music may differ, but our physiology reacts in a natural, familiar, and non-judgmental way.

There is more information on this counseling specialty, and a music therapist directory, at American Music Therapy Association (


American Music Therapy Association, U of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing, U of Wisconsin Eau Claiare, Lee Anna Rasar, Music Therapy Research and Resources.

photo by John Nyboer


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