Music Therapy?

If you know me in real life, you know that I am a music therapist. If you don’t know me in real life, this may be news to you. If you’re interested in hearing why I became a music therapist, you can read my story here. I don’t come from a musical family (other than a great aunt who is one heck of an organist and an aunt who is a vocalist and married into our family), so it’s an interesting read.

But for now, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk about music therapy, since the next writing prompt for the 2014 Blogger Challenge is about music.

1. Music therapy is an actual degree program. Music therapists aren’t just therapists who like to use music or people who call themselves therapist who like to use music. They are certainly not people who think they can just use the CD player or play music for people and the music magically helps them. They are people who are qualified and educated in how to therapeutically use music to help others in lots of different ways.

2. As a music therapist, I have to also be a musician. Yes, I auditioned to be accepted into the school of music. I was expected to have a major instrument that I studied in my undergrad and I was expected to learn numerous other instruments besides the one I am most proficient at playing. Technically, I can pick up any instrument and figure out how to play basic tunes in a short time.

3. Music therapy isn’t easy because I don’t just “play” all day. It’s actually pretty exhausting and requires a lot of energy, just like any other job. I’ve worked in some really high-stress and emotionally charged environments like hospice, inpatient child and adolescent psych, and inpatient mental health and substance abuse recovery facilities. I have also been in some dangerous situations but haven’t had any major issues yet, thankfully. My work can be extremely emotionally draining and I have to be physically and mentally present to be able to provide quality therapy. Imagine how anyone feels to listen to a friend vent about their problems and how exhausting that can be. It’s kind of like that only for 8+ hours a day and most of the time, these problems are a lot more troubling!

4. Music therapy isn’t just about playing live or recorded music for people. I’m well aware that that may be what it looks like, but there is a reason for every single thing I do in a session. I’m forever assessing whether or not what I’m doing is working, and I’m always altering what I’m doing to meet people’s needs. Someone not trained in music therapy is usually not as equipped to do this, which is why facilities should always hire a music therapist to provide music therapy instead of relying on volunteer musicians or entertainers to provide this.

5. Music is not magic. This is important, so I’m going to say it again. Music is not magic. Yes, listening to music can be therapeutic and in some cases, can help all on its own, but it doesn’t always. For it to be music therapy, there has to be a client, a therapist, and music. The music is, of course, a vital role in music therapy, but so is the therapist. Music brings up a lot of stuff and if you’re working through some serious issues, having a music therapist equipped to help you deal with those issues is key. Don’t believe me when I say music brings up stuff? Try listening to a song played at a funeral of someone close to you or listen to a song you danced to with your first boyfriend or girlfriend.

6. Music can help people of all ages. We work from the “womb to the tomb,” as some music therapists say. Music therapy is used in the NICU for even the tiniest babies and is a wonderful way to help someone move on from this life to the next in a hospice setting. And we work everywhere in between.

7. It can actually be dangerous for a non-music therapist to practice “music therapy.” You wouldn’t let someone other than a nurse give your child a vaccine, you wouldn’t let someone other than a doctor diagnose you, and you wouldn’t let someone other than a physical therapist provide physical therapy, so there really is no reason why you would allow anyone other than a music therapist to provide music therapy. You never know what music will bring up for people (See #5!) and it can be difficult to manage if the person isn’t trained in how to deal with this. When we’re not taking all our music classes and practicing, we were learning just this kind of thing.

8. Music therapy doesn’t always make people happy. People sometimes have this misconception about music therapy. Sometimes, yes, music therapy can leave someone feeling happier. But therapy is hard work. It’s not always meant to be fun and if you have ever been in therapy, sometimes you leave a session in turmoil. But that’s what has to happen for a person to grow and learn. You have to be given things to think about so that you can make a decision that is right for you, and these decisions are not always easy and can’t be made lightly. And they’re definitely not always fun. Music therapy can be like any other therapy when it comes to this stuff.

I graduated around second or third in my high school class (I don’t know if I ever got the final number) so I think a lot of people were really surprised I chose music instead of something “smart.” But I can honestly tell you that music degrees are no joke. They are just as hard as any other degree program, if not harder than some of them. It’s a lot of hours, a lot of work, and a ton of stress. Not to mention that I am constantly (every day) defending my choice and explaining to people what it is I do as a music therapist. And unfortunately, none of us have a lot of money to show for it. But what we do have is a lot of passion for our work and a true love and commitment to what we do, and that’s really why we do it.

Music is kind of a way of life for me. I started playing the piano when I was 7 and have learned to play numerous instruments since then. That means that I have been involved with music for over 25 years. Crazy, huh? I can’t imagine my life without it, and honestly, every memory I have is somehow related to music, because it has always been a part of my life. It is also something that will always be a part of my life. Long after my body gives out and I can’t do all the physical stuff I used to do, I will still have music in some way. Anya at RecitalI hope music will somehow be at least a small part of my children’s lives, even if they choose other careers, though I will admit that when my daughter tells me she wants to be a music therapist so she can help people, it does melt my heart a little…ok, a lot! Click here to see a really cute video of her telling me about it! Also, you’ll want to see my son imitating his Mommy on the piano!


I’m part of the #2014 Blogger Challenge – are you?




  1. Dawn says:

    After reading about usign Mozart’s music to help special needs children in the Mozart Effect, we were sold on the idea of music as therapy. Our oldest daughter started playing the violin at 7 and was finally able to grasp a pencil and write. It is a blessing to watch her play because she loves to listen to music so much.

  2. I’ve read in many, many places how music not only soothes us, but helps us to learn, and I totally believe it. I’d love to think that if I had it to do all over, I would have stuck with piano lessons a little longer and been better now at introducing it to our kids. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Rebekah says:

    Interesting. I’ve never heard of musical therapy, but being from a small town there are lotsvof thing I haven’t heard of. 🙂
    So do you play for nursing homes? Or group sessions? I’m wondering because you said facilities should hire therapists instead of volunteers..

  4. Heather says:

    This was very interesting. I think it must be a very satisfying career, even if it is draining. I did play therapy for a while as a volunteer which I enjoyed.

  5. Echo says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I didn’t know exactly what music therapy was like! Now I have a better understanding.

  6. Ana Lynn says:

    Wow, I have to be honest I had no idea this job existed! It sounds like a draining but at the same time rewarding job. I know that music helps me when I am feeling a bit down and it also helps me when I am feeling great. I usually can’t work without music though. So music is a pretty big part of my life, even though I can’t carry a tune to save my life!

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