What is Music Therapy? 

Elizabeth Jacobi, PhD, RMT, FAMI-Founder/Director 

Ronald J. Jones - joins MMI as Exec. Director 

Allison Boyd, Sara Longwell - Program Partners  

Jeannelle Benek, MA, HPMT, MT-BC 

Denise Ondishko, Ph.D.  

Chris Butler - Volunteer 

Volunteer Opportunities 

"After silence, that which comes closest to expressing the inexpressible is music."  Aldous Huxley

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is an allied health profession that uses music in a therapeutic relationship to address the physical, psychological, cognitive, and social needs of individual clients/patients.

Upon assessment of the strengths and needs of the client/patient, a qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment, including creating, singing, moving to and/or listening to music.  With musical involvement in the therapeutic context, the client/patient’s abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of his or her life.  

Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that may be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words.

Frequently Asked Questions about Music Therapy

What do Music Therapists do?

Usually part of an interdisciplinary addressing the medical care goals and objectives of individual patients, Music Therapists use music within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, psychological, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.  Research in music therapy supports the effectiveness of music therapy in such areas as facilitating movement and overall physical rehabilitation, motivating patients to cope with treatment, pain management, providing emotional support for patients and their families, and provision of an emotional outlet.

The Music Therapist assesses client/patient long- and short-term needs, plans and implements music therapy strategies to address the needs, and evaluates, documents and analyzes client/patient response and progress in order to plan future strategies.

How do Music Therapists make a difference?

Music Therapists provide services to adults and children with psychological disorders, mental retardation and developmental disabilities, speech and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, neurological impairments, chronic pain, and others. 

Therapeutic programs created and implemented by Music Therapists can effectively:

  • Create a calming environment to improve sleep pattern, feeding behavior and weight gain in premature infants. 
  • Activate response in support of cognitive, motor, communication, and social objectives in those with neurological disorders and brain injuries.
  • Provide coping techniques for pain management and stress reduction for individuals with chronic illness or undergoing oncology treatment.
  • Address mental health needs through non-threatening interventions.
  • Reduce anxiety and decrease pain to improve patient response to medical treatment and surgical procedures.
  • Support healthy aging and optimum personal performance using experiential programs based on theories of personal growth, awareness and learning.
  • Teach cognitive, motor, social, communication, and daily living skills to those with developmental disabilities and autism.
  • Facilitate movement from denial to determination and recovery in substance abuse and addictive disorder clients/patients.
  • Helping to allow rehabilitative frustration to yield to accomplishment and fulfillment in those with physicaldisabilities and sensory impairments.
  • Help Alzheimer’s sufferers access their past to trigger short- and long-term memory, decrease agitation, and enhance reality orientation.
  • Shape musical experiences to guide individuals and/or loved ones in life’s processes during hospice care.
  • Present the hospital as a “fun” place for pediatric patients. 

Where do Music Therapists work?

Music Therapists are employed in a variety of medical and healthcare settings, including:

  • Medical clinics
  • Rehabilitation facilities         
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Wellness and Well-being programs
  • Schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Senior centers
  • Private practice
  • Group homes
  • Day care treatment centers
  • Medical and psychiatric hospitals
  • Substance abuse programs
  • Hospice and bereavement programs
  • Correctional and forensic facilities

What can I expect of a Music Therapist?

A career in music therapy offers challenge, opportunity and rewards for its practitioners.  Qualified Music Therapists are appropriately educated and credentialed, and, unique among college degree recipients, possess both musical and clinical skills.


Music Therapists have completed an approved music therapy program for one or more of 70 undergraduate or graduate colleges and universities in the U.S. that offer the specialized degree.  The minimum degree requirement is a bachelor’s degree and successful completion of a supervised internship.  About 40% of qualified Music Therapists hold an advanced degree.


The Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC) credential requires successful completion of a national examination and ongoing continuing professional education.  Information about the MT-BC credential is available from the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Musical Skills

Music Therapists are accomplished in piano, guitar, many other instruments, and voice.  They are knowledgeable in composition, music theory and history, and skilled in improvising, arranging and conducting music.  They are flexible and embrace a wide range of musical styles.

Clinical Skills
Music Therapists have a knowledge of a variety of populations, issues, unique needs and problems.  They are trained in assessment, treatment planning and evaluation.  They are familiar with major theories and models of therapy and wellness, and are committed to recognized professional ethics and standards of practice.

How can I become a Music Therapist?

Prospective Music Therapists must complete a course of study approved by the American Music Therapy Association.  The undergraduate curriculum includes coursework in music therapy, psychology, music, biological, social and behavior sciences, disabilities and general studies.  Students put music therapy procedures and techniques learned in the classroom to work serving individuals in need in required community or on-campus fieldwork, learning to assess individual needs, develop and implement treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes.

Following completion of AMTA-approved academic training and internship, students are eligible for admission to the certification examination given by the Certification Board of Music Therapists, Inc.  Successful completion of the certification exam results in the student receiving the Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) credential.

Many AMTA-approved universities also offer graduate programs in music therapy.

Coursework requirements can vary by school.  Prospective music therapy students should check with any of the approximately 70 colleges and universities offering a Music Therapy degree program for specific information.

Individuals holding an undergraduate degree in an area other than music therapy may elect to complete a degree equivalency program in music therapy offered by most AMTA-approved universities, completing only required coursework without necessarily earning a second bachelor’s degree.