Frequently Asked Questions
- What is music therapy?
- Why music?
- Who can practice music therapy?
- What does MT-BC stand for?
- Who can benefit from music therapy?
- How do I find a music therapist?
- What types of interventions are used during music therapy sessions?
- How do I know if music therapy will benefit me?
- Can I have music therapy as a service on my child’s IFSP or IEP?
- What is the difference between music therapy and music education?
- What is the difference between regular lessons and adaptive lessons?
- Is there research to support music therapy?
- Will my insurance cover music therapy?
Music therapy is the use of music by a trained music therapist to reach non-musical goals for clients with a wide range of needs. Music therapists use the many qualities of music to address goals for their clients in a non-threatening, and unique way. Music therapy can be used to address cognitive, social, communication, academic, and motor skills.
Everyone, regardless of age or gender responds in some way to music. Music is and has been a part of every known culture in the world. Music is non-threatening, fun, communicative, emotional, and non-verbal, making it an ideal intervention for clients who have difficulties with social and communication skills. Music therapists design interventions to be success-oriented, so that all clients, regardless of their level of ability, can participate in a meaningful way.
A music therapist must have a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Music Therapy. Music therapy coursework includes classes on therapy skills, research, and practica work. Courses also include music theory, history, and literature, instrumental techniques, psychology, and anatomy. A six-month internship is required to complete the degree. Following the internship, a music therapist is eligible to sit for the board certification exam. After completing their degree, music therapists can undergo further training and obtain specialty certification in areas such as Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT), Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Music Therapy (NICU MT), Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy (NRMT), Guided Imagery and Music (FAMI), and others.
After completing all degree requirements, including the internship, music therapists are eligible to sit for the board certification exam, administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Upon passing the exam, the MT-BC (Music Therapist – Board Certified) credential is issued. The credential has a five year certification cycle, after which it must be renewed with continuing education credits or retaking the exam. Although the credential is not required to practice music therapy, it is the only quality control indicator in our profession and the only way for a consumer to be sure that their music therapist is current on the latest practices and research in our field. In addition, most agencies that employ music therapists require the credential. To determine if your music therapist is board certified, go to www.cbmt.org and click on “Click here to verify MT-BC Status.”
Almost anyone can benefit from music therapy. Music therapists work with children and adults with a wide range of needs, including developmental delay, speech delay, Down Syndrome, autism, Williams Syndrome, cerebral palsy, vision impairment, hearing impairment, dementia, head injury, deafblindness, cognitive impairments, physical impairments, mental health issues, and many more. They can work in many different settings including schools, hospice, nursing homes, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, day care centers, prisons, and many others. Music therapists work with clients from birth, with music therapy assisted childbirth, to death, with end of life and hospice care.
The Certification Board for Music Therapists and the American Music Therapy Association will provide lists of music therapists in your area. Visit www.cbmt.org and click on “Search for Certified Music Therapists” or go to the American Music Therapy Association’s website and search their online directory.
Interventions vary depending on the population. Music therapists use interventions that include cooperative music making, improvisation, movement/dance, instrument play, singing, songwriting, lyric analysis, and music listening.
A music therapist can do a music therapy assessment to determine if you qualify for services. The assessment will cover a wide range of topics including brief medical and psychological history, your relationship to and use of music, as well as a detailed description of the presenting issues. For children, Bolton Music Therapy uses the Individualized Music Therapy Assessment Profile (IMTAP), an assessment tool specifically designed for children,
Music therapy is considered a special instruction service on the IFSP in some states, but not in Tennessee. Currently, the early intervention system in Tennessee (TEIS) does not cover music therapy. Other states do cover music therapy, although some require the music therapist to work with an early interventionist, or may only provide it in a group setting.
Although music therapy is not listed under the related services section in IDEA, it is considered a related service. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has a letter from the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs to clarify this. Some school systems employ or contract music therapists to provide individual and group services. However, there are usually not enough MTs to serve an entire district adequately. In districts that do not already provide music therapy, it can be a struggle. In order to get music therapy added to an IEP, a music therapy assessment must be administered to show that your child cannot make progress on their IEP goals without the use of music therapy as an intervention. It is not enough to say that your child learns “best” with music, you must show that it is required for your child to learn. Many private music therapists will perform assessments for school systems, but then pass the case to another music therapist for services so there will be no conflict of interest regarding assessment results. If you need assistance in this area, please contact us.
A music educator is primarily concerned with teaching music for the sake of music. Goals include learning to read music, learning to play an instrument, or learning about music theory, history, and literature. The end goal is often to perform a recital with as few errors as possible or to pass an exam. A music therapist may use many of the same techniques, but is concerned with other skills learned along the way rather than with the end product. A music therapist may give music lessons, but will focus on improving attention span, fine motor skills, or academic skills.
The difference between regular and adaptive lessons mirrors the differences between music education and music therapy. In regular lessons, students learn to play an instrument for the sake of learning music. The end goal is often to play in a recital. Adaptive lessons can refer to many things. First, the materials can be adapted – instruments and mallets can be adapted for clients with physical impairments, and other adaptations such as wheelchair stands or other specialty aides can be used. Second, methods can be adapted. If a child cannot read music on a staff, music can be adapted to incorporate numbers, letters, or colors. Third, adaptive lessons often focus on different goals, including increasing attention span, addressing academic concepts, or improving fine motor skills. Students in adaptive lessons can also participate in recitals to improve self esteem and show off their new skills.
Formal music therapy research has been published since 1964, but articles about the therapeutic uses of music had appeared in journals of other disciplines for decades before that. The Journal of Music Therapy began publication in 1964 as the journal of the National Association of Music Therapy (NAMT), adding Music Therapy Perspectives, with a more practical and applied focus, in 1982. The American Association of Music Therapy (AAMT) began publishing Music Therapy in 1981, but was discontinued when NAMT and AAMT joined to form the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) in 1998.
International journals include the Annual Journal of the New Zealand Society for Music (also The New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy, since 1987); Australian Journal of Music Therapy (since 1990); The British Journal of Music Therapy (Also the Journal of British Music Therapy; since 1968); the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy (since 1993); The Nordic Journal of Music Therapy (since 1992); and Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy (online since 2001).
Articles and research about music therapy can also be found in publications such as Arts in Psychotherapy, the International Journal of Arts Medicine, the Journal of the Association for Music and Imagery, Music Perception, Psychology of Music, and Psychomusicology, as well as journals in the fields of music education, special education, pediatrics, neuroscience, and medicine.
Very few insurance companies cover music therapy. In order to bill for music therapy, doctor’s orders and a diagnosis code are required. While we do not directly bill insurance companies, we would be glad to work with you to obtain reimbursement for music therapy services. Please see our funding page for more information.