What is music therapy?

Posted: August 20, 2010 in Music Therapy

I would imagine that this is a pretty common conversation for people in the music therapy profession.

So, what do you do?
I’m a music therapist.
Oh really?  That’s cool. [pause] Now, what is that exactly?

When I was an undergrad, it seemed like the million dollar question was on every single exam.  “WHAT IS MUSIC THERAPY?”  The purpose of the question was to have the student develop their own definition and be ready to answer when someone makes the inevitable inquiry.

For me, the way I explain it changes every time.  I always include something about how it’s the use of music in a therapeutic setting to accomplish goals and objectives based on the client needs.  I usually give a few examples from my own work, such as singing to help with speech or instrument playing to help with physical needs.  I also highlight that music therapists work with kids and adults in all kinds of settings.  Usually, one of the misconceptions I come across is that people think it’s just to help with relaxation, and give examples of how they listen to music in the car.  I try to give the impression that there’s a lot more to it, but it’s difficult to do in a short period of time.  I find that it’s easier to explain music therapy if I can have a conversation.  That way, questions can be asked that I might not think of if I’m just giving the Elevator Speech.

I’ve added a new page to the top of this blog giving a definition of music therapy for anyone who may not be in the profession and may have questions.  Please take a look and let me know if you see any glaring omissions (or errors).  Thanks for reading!


  1. Peggy Hickle says:

    Thanks for the help with a definition. I get that question a lot about you also.

  2. Roia says:

    I laughed so hard when I read the first lines of your post. It’s so true, There’s always that pregnant pause and the inevitable, “what is that exactly?”

    I’ve always found the definition from AMTA to be so…sanitary. It doesn’t feel like what I do every day. Sigh.

    Whenever I’m asked about music therapy (and, in fact, someone asked me just this past weekend at my niece’s birthday party) I usually launch into a great big comparison between watching volleyball and learning about people through their music-making.

    But then, I’m not known for being, er, concise. 🙂

  3. themtguy says:

    @Mom: You’re welcome!

    @Roia: Well, the AMTA definition is good for technical purposes, but it doesn’t mean much to people who really don’t know what MT is. So it’s definitely good to come up with your own definition. I must say that I am eager to hear this comparison to volleyball.

  4. Roia says:

    Well, the volleyball analogy works for me because I use a psychodynamic approach. Well, it’s like this: you know how you watch people playing volleyball, and you get a sense of what they’re like in their lives? Some people are ball hogs, some people are afraid of the ball, some people want to make sure everyone gets a chance to play, there are aggressive players, players who don’t quite get the rules, and on and on. Well, in music therapy, we look at how people approach music- this could be how they interact with the experience of music in general, or how they deal with instruments (or how they avoid dealing with music). We listen to people through their music: what instruments are they choosing, how are they using them, is how someone uses an instrument in line with the instrument s/he has chosen (i.e. playing a bass drum very quietly, or the very annoying tone of a loudly played cowbell, etc.), and so forth.

    See what I mean about being wordy? Luckily, I’m a very speedy talker.

  5. AMRobins, MT-BC says:

    The elevator speech–lol–I so understand!!!!!!!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s