Music therapy is the prescribed use of music to promote health. Traditional
therapies rely on language, and their effectiveness depends on the client's
ability to talk with the therapist.
But the language of music is available to everyone regardless of age, disability
or cultural background. "It's for any population," says Jimm Burrell, a music
therapist in Gahanna, Ohio.
Music therapy has been used effectively with children, adolescents, adults
and the elderly with problems ranging from learning disabilities to Alzheimer's
disease. People with substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities,
and acute and chronic pain have all benefited from music therapy.
Music therapist Cheryl Farris-Manning says music kept her from needing
painkillers during the birth of her three children.
Recent studies have shown that music can help develop communication and
thinking skills in both the general population and in people with severe disabilities.
A music therapist might play music to patients and encourage them to play
along with hand instruments.
Burrell says just learning to hold an instrument properly can be an accomplishment
for some patients. He's had patients who couldn't speak but were able to sing
in his sessions because music is centered in a different part of the brain
than speech. "I've had that happen more than once," says Burrell.
Other musical therapies include singing, moving, composing and improvising.
Burrell and many other music therapists use a Musical Instrument Digital Interface
(MIDI) system, which links a synthesizer and computer to allow patients to
create their own music.
"They can touch a switch and make bells happen," explains Burrell.
Different patients respond to different types of music. It's up to the
music therapist to record different reactions and design a music program best
matched to the patient or group of patients.
The challenge in music therapy is knowing what works and how to use it.
That's why music therapists need to have a strong background in music and
Therapists work with physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers
and physical and occupational therapists in a variety of health-care and educational
Hospitals, nursing homes, mental health facilities, adult day-care programs,
community programs for people with disabilities, correctional facilities and
substance abuse centers may all use the services of a music therapist. In
nursing homes and residential facilities, music therapists may be called music
directors or therapeutic music specialists.
But wherever they work, they assess patients based on information from
medical records, medical staff, family and the patients themselves. They then
develop and carry out therapeutic activity programs consistent with patient
needs and interests.
Some therapists are self-employed, generally contracting with nursing homes
or community agencies to develop and oversee programs. Farris-Manning says
there are no music therapists on staff in health-care facilities in her community;
all music therapy is done on contract.
Music therapists observe and record patients' participation, reactions
and progress during each session. These records can be used by the medical
staff and others to monitor progress, justify changes or end treatment.
Music therapists generally work a 40-hour week, which may include some
evenings, weekends and holidays.
But what type of person is a music therapist? "They have a desire to help
people, they like music and they're good at music," says music therapist Dick
Music therapists should be comfortable working with disabled people and
be patient, tactful and persuasive. Ingenuity and imagination are needed in
adapting activities to individual needs.