What Qualifies as Clinical Music Therapy?

On May 3, 2022, we published a blog titled The Music Is Still There: How Caregivers Can Harness the Restorative Powers of Music Therapy. Because some of the information was only available by clicking on a link, we are making that information more easily accessible to caregivers in a series of blogs based on one or more of those links.

This second blog in the series focuses on Setting the Record Straight: What Music therapy Is and Is Not, a Press Release from the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).*

Music can be therapeutic in many ways, but not all the uses of music in caregiving can be classified as Clinical Music Therapy. The AMTA “supports music for all and applauds the efforts of individuals who share their music-making and time; we say the more music the better!” To help us understand the difference, they give examples of therapeutic music that does not require a clinical music therapist, such as the following:

  • Helping a person with Alzheimer’s listen to a playlist of his/her favorite songs
  • Groups who regularly perform in assisted living facilities or nursing homes
  • Celebrities who perform in hospitals
  • A person playing the piano in the lobby of a care facility or hospital
  • Nurses or other caregivers playing background music to improve patients’ mood
  • A high school student playing a musical instrument for residents of a nursing home
  • A choir singing Christmas songs on a floor of a hospital

Music can be magic for all of us in different ways, and its power doesn’t usually fade when we’re affected with dementia. We can observe the magic of music in the following examples:

  • People who can play complete songs on the piano or sing every word to an older song, even if they are in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and cannot remember the names of family members
  • A woman with dementia whose mood gets much better when she hears music she knows and loves
  • Being able to remember the words to songs your mother sang when you were a child
  • People who lose their speech but can recover it for short periods through music

Clinical music therapy is a professional, research-based discipline. It applies science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music that is used for health treatment and educational goals. A few important facts about clinical music therapy and the certified music therapists who practice it include:

  • Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of AMTA’s 72 approved colleges and universities. This includes 1200 hours of clinical training.
  • Music therapists must hold the MT-BC credential, issued through the Certification Board for Music Therapists. This ensures competent practice and requires continuing education. Some states also require licensure for board-certified music therapists.
  • Music Therapy is an evidence-based health profession with a strong research foundation.
  • Music Therapy degrees require knowledge in psychology, medicine, and music.

Examples from AMTA of what credentialed music therapists do:

  • Work with patients like Congresswoman Giffords to regain her speech after surviving a bullet wound to her brain.
  • Work with older adults to lessen the effects of dementia.
  • Work with children and adults to reduce asthma episodes.
  • Work with hospitalized patients to reduce pain.
  • Work with children who have autism to improve communication capabilities.
  • Work with premature infants to improve sleep patterns and increase weight gain.
  • Work with people who have Parkinson’s disease to improve motor function.

All caregivers can use music strategies to help clients and family members with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases, even though you might not qualify as a certified music therapist. The power of music might be just the thing to unlock emotions and memories, or to make movement easier.

Because music is recognized and stored in many parts of the brain, it can sometimes trigger speech, other memories, or smoother movements. Musical memories are often spared the ravages of mental deterioration and can reawaken connections with events, emotions and even useful information associated with the music. Studies have shown that some people with dementia can even learn new information and behaviors, like which pills to take when, if the information is put to music.

At the very least, many people with dementia find familiar music from the past to be a pleasant source of entertainment and comfort, reducing challenging behaviors and decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression. In our next blog, we will learn more about how to create a personalized playlist for someone you are caring for and about the skills involved in using playlists successfully.

AMTA’s mission is to advance public awareness of the benefits of music therapy and increase access to quality music therapy services in a rapidly changing world. In consideration of the diversity of music used in healthcare, special education, and other settings, AMTA unequivocally recommends the unique knowledge and skill of board-certified music therapists.”

For more information about how caregivers can incorporate music info their care strategies, look to Dakota Home Care. Our compassionate caregivers are skilled at providing creative solutions that empower individuals to live their best lives in the comfort of home. Contact us today to learn about how our in-home care in Lincoln, Fargo, Mandan, and Bismarck can benefit someone you love.


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