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Music therapy sounds progressive and new, although it dates to the 1700’s – who knew! It’s used to help with a variety of disorders including cardiac conditions, depression, autism, substance abuse and Alzheimer’s disease. It can help with memory, lower blood pressure, improve coping, reduce stress, improve self-esteem and more. Notable Universities offer this discipline for credentials to practice treatment. Being an evidence-based all-natural approach to wellness, we wanted to learn more about Music Therapy and share it with our loyalists to promote natural-first alternatives to wellness.  

How does Music Therapy work?

Research has shown that music activates cognitive, motor, and speech centers in the brain through accessing shared neural systems.

According to Dr. Annie Heidersheit, a board certified music therapist, with degrees in music therapy and education and counseling, University of Minnesota, music therapy is the use of music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of a group or individual. It employs a variety of activities, such as listening to melodies, playing an instrument, drumming, writing songs, and guided imagery. Music therapy is appropriate for people of all ages, whether they are virtuosos or tone deaf, struggling with illnesses or totally healthy.

Music therapy touches all aspects of the mind, body, brain and behavior. Music can provide a distraction for the mind, it can slow the rhythms of the body, and it can alter our mood, which in turn can influence behavior.

Music therapy can also help trigger memories. Consider someone with Dementia suffering the effects of short-term memory before it reaches anything stored in the long-term memory. Using music from that time in a patient’s life is more likely to help trigger memories.

We interviewed Kelly Preston, a Board-Certified Music Therapist, practicing at Bella Care Hospice in Cleveland, Ohio for greater insight on this natural therapy.


    Q. Music Therapy sounds progressive and new, can you tell us when and how Music Therapy first came about, and who can be credited for the development of Music Therapy?

      Music Therapy has been practiced for about 68 years. There are some educational articles on the use of music as therapy dating back to the late 1700's. The very first time the profession started to show up in the community was after the World Wars with veterans in hospitals throughout the country. Musicians of all types would round the halls of the hospitals providing music for veterans who suffered both emotionally and physically from their struggles during war. The benefit of music with veterans was recognized and soon these musicians were hired as paid staff throughout the country.

      There were many people who did notable things for Music Therapy in the early 20th century. These people contributed to journals, articles, and scholarly texts, and started professional organizations, ultimately helping to grow the field. However, there were three pioneers of Music Therapy as a clinical profession. Ira Altschuler, a psychiatrist and Music Therapist. Willem van de Wall, who wrote the first “how to” Music Therapy text. And, finally, E. Thayer Gaston, who is said to be the “Father of Music Therapy.” Gaston was instrumental in the development of Music Therapy in education and as a profession.

      For a full snapshot of the history of Music Therapy, you can visit the website for the American Music Therapy Association; This website will provide much more in depth information on the history of Music Therapy in America.

      Q. What are the benefits of Music Therapy? Stats? Success stories?

      Music Therapy yields an immense number of benefits for the clients that use it. Different goals and objectives are decided by a Music Therapist depending on the population they are working with. These could be educational, social, emotional, spiritual, or physical goals. The achievement of these goals with clients has been documented through evidence-based practice.

      Currently, I am working with the hospice population. The benefits of using Music Therapy with hospice patients are as follows:

      • Decreased pain perception
      • Decreased anxiety & depression
      • Increased spirituality
      • Increased socialization
      • Enhanced communication

      The success stories with clients utilizing Music Therapy are vast. I met a family whose child with Autism did not speak a word until his Music Therapy treatment. Techniques such as Melodic Intonation Therapy and Rhythmic Auditory Stimulus help patients who have suffered strokes to speak and walk again.

      In my line of work, I often have patients who have a primary or secondary diagnosis of Dementia. One of my patients has major aphasia, meaning she has trouble expressing herself through speech. She does not speak often, and when she does speak, her words don't make sense. When I introduce music to her, she engages in call and response type of communication with the music, and it allows her a different outlet for her to express herself.

      Q. Do music therapists work with children and adolescents?

      Yes. Music therapy may help with the following:

      • Behavior disorders
      • Mood and anxiety disorders
      • Attention deficit/Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
      • Autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
      • Trauma
      • Substance abuse disorders

      Q. What conditions does Music Therapy address?s?

        Music therapy is a very adaptive practice and addresses a wide variety of populations that spans across all ages. Some include (but are not limited to):

        • Mental Health
        • Hospice & End of Life Care
        • Dementia (Alzheimer's)
        • Developmental Disabilities
        • Physical Disabilities
        • Substance Abuse
        • Traumatic Brain Injury
        • Chronic Pain Issues
        • Labor & Delivery
        • Lowering blood pressure.
        • Improving memory.
        • Enhanced communication and social skills through experiencing music with others.
        • Self-reflection. Observing your thoughts and emotions.
        • Reducing muscle tension.
        • Self-regulation. Developing healthy coping skills to manage your thoughts and emotions.
        • Increasing motivation.
        • Managing pain.
        • Increasing joy.
          Q. What demographic or condition finds the greatest benefits of this therapy?
            In my opinion I would not say that one demographic or condition finds greater benefits than another. Music Therapy has such a wide breadth of options for people of all types of abilities and ages. In my line of work through hospice, the greatest benefit I see is the increase in my patients' quality of life through short term goals set in their time on our hospice services. I’m able to help maximize the time they have left on this earth by using music to help improve family interaction, decrease pain perception and anxiety, and supplement our spiritual services.

            Q. If you're not using Music Therapy, what are you using for similar benefits?
            Art Therapy and Recreational Therapy are other holistic therapies that can be adapted to benefit many different populations of people. They are able to use their specific skills to create interventions that can provide therapeutic results emotionally, socially, and physically.
              Q. What happens during music therapy?

                During music therapy you and your therapist will do one or more of the following:

                • Create music. You might compose music, write lyrics, or make up music together
                • Sing music. Use your voice to share a piece of music.
                • Listen to music. Enjoy the sound and lyrics.
                • Move to music.It can be as simple as tapping your toes together or as complicated as a coordinated dance.
                • Discuss lyrics. Read or listen to the lyrics of a song and talk about their meaning.
                • Play an instrument. Use an instrument like a piano, guitar, drums, etc. to share music.
                  Q. Is it covered by most health insurance?

                    Music Therapy is reimbursable by some major private insurances. It is slowly being recognized more as a necessary service that helps to reach a recipient's goals medically, socially, and educationally. Medicare and Medicaid have also covered Music Therapy services in the past through waiver programs that are specific to certain states.

                      Q. What is the prognosis (outlook) for people who go through music therapy? How effective is it?

                        Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, your abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of your life. For example, you might work on vowel sounds by singing, which supports using those sounds when speaking. Music therapy can have a positive effect on many aspects of your life.

                          Q. How does one go about finding/getting a music therapist?

                            The easiest way is by searching online for Music Therapists near your location. Many MT-BCs have their own practices with private clients and contracts with outside facilities like nursing homes or schools. They can also be employed full time by schools, nursing homes, hospices, and hospitals. There is a search tool on the American Music Therapy Association's website where one can search for Music Therapists in their area based on their specialties and/or the current population they are working with.

                            Q. Tell us about you - your credentials - how long you have been practicing music therapy - what type of credentials you are required to have as a music therapist?

                            I have been a Board-Certified Music Therapist for nearly 8 years. My practice has mainly been with the hospice and geriatric populations. Second to that experience, I have worked with children who have multiple disabilities including physical disabilities, developmental disabilities, and those on the Autism Spectrum.

                            The credentials a trained Music Therapist has is MT-BC, or Music Therapist Board Certified. One obtains this certification after four years of college level curriculum with well-rounded course work including Anatomy & Physiology, Abnormal Psychology, Music Theory, Statistics, and classes specifically for Music Therapy with certain populations. This course work also includes 1200 hours of clinical and internship hours and passing the certification exam created and maintained by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Music Therapists are certified professionals. This means that a person who has obtained their MT-BC can practice in most states throughout America except for a few that require master’s level education before certification.

                            Music Therapy is the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can address a variety of healthcare & educational goals, and many can benefit from music therapy services. The base of evidence in music therapy research is extensive and strong.


                            About Kelly Preston

                            Kelly Preston, MT-BC
                            Music Therapist Board Certified

                            Practicing at Bella Care Hospice in Cleveland, Ohio.