Music Heals

blog photo bethany

My baby girl Bethany (my muse for this blog) turned 24 in October.  Where did the time go?  I still remember the overflowing joy I felt when she was born and she still brings me great joy today.  Since January is Music Therapy Advocacy Month, I have asked her to be a guest blogger and write a post about her chosen career in music therapy:

Happy New Year! January 2016 brings in fresh starts, resolutions, and new beginnings – and in the music therapy world, it also brings the sixth annual Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month! I’m Bethany, Dr. Angie’s daughter, and a board certified music therapist licensed in the state of Oregon and I am guest posting here to talk about my profession and my passion.

When I tell people I’m a music therapist, I get a lot of different reactions. Sometimes people get excited and cite a personal connection with me: “You’re a music therapist?! My mom/sister/cousin’s friend had a music therapist to help with x, y, z…and it was awesome!” A lot of people are interested, and almost everyone says something like, “Music therapy. I get that! Music is therapeutic – I use music to relax/help my mood/etc.” More often than not, I get bemused curiosity – “Music therapy… what the heck is that?”

So what is music therapy anyway?  Therapeutic uses of music have been around since Bible times. David may be the first recorded person to use music as therapy on Saul when he was afflicted with an “evil spirit”:

14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from t the Lord tormented him. 15 And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. 16 Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” 17 So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.”

23 And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.”

The earliest references to modern music therapy are found in medical journals and dissertations from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They listed ways that music could be used to treat medical diseases. In the early 1900s, music therapy grew in popularity, as soldiers returned from World War 1 with symptoms of what we now know to be PTSD. The first college training program for MT was established in 1944, and 1950 saw the foundation of the first national association of the profession. Through the 20th century, music therapy continued to grow as MTs explored and researched ways that music therapy could be used and populations who could benefit from the use of music therapeutically.

Today, there are over 6000 certified music therapists in the US. We have an established profession with a national organization, standards of practice, and certification requirements. According to the American Music Therapy Association,

Music therapy is the clinical and 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.

Broken down: music therapy is clinical and evidence-based, so it is an established health profession with research to back up the interventions we use. Music therapy interventions are used to achieve clients’ individualized goals; sometimes these are musical goals, but often they are nonmusical therapeutic goals. For example, music therapy can be used in physical rehabilitation to restore gait or range of motion for stroke victims; in psychiatric treatment to build healthy relationships and regulate mood; in special education, to help children learn concepts and improve memory; in hospitals, for pain management after surgery; and for any clients as an avenue of communication for people who struggle to express themselves verbally or in other ways. Music therapists are able to help their clients transfer skills and abilities learned in music interventions to other areas of their life.

In the United States, music therapists must be credentialed and have gone through an approved music therapy program at one of about 80 accredited universities in the country, as well as completing 1200 hours of clinical training and supervised internship. During this time, we study music, psychology, anatomy and physiology, as well as music therapy core courses. After all that, we sit for a board examination to get our music therapy board certification (MT-BC). The Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) is accredited by the same agency that accredits programs for nursing, occupational therapists, and behavior analysts. We also recertify every five years, either by re-examination, or by continued education.

The profession of music therapy is growing rapidly as more and more research is done, and more people discover the efficacy of music therapy in helping improve quality of life for many people.  More and more states are approving state-based licensure for music therapy – which is good news, because this means that depending on location and client needs, music therapy can be funded through clients’ insurance. Music therapists are working in schools, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, nursing homes and other assisted living facilities, in private practice, and in hospice, to name a few.

I am really excited about the growth of the profession and especially that Oregon has newly approved state licensure as of January 1st. I love what I do and I am so blessed to have found a career that allows me to help people and by doing something I love: play music. I work at the Oregon State Hospital, an inpatient residential psychiatric facility, as a full time music therapist, leading treatment groups and working with an interdisciplinary team to provide individualized care for our patients. I love my job, even though it is challenging sometimes (read: almost all the time).

I have had a passion for working in mental health ever since I began my training as a music therapist.  One of the reasons I felt called to work with this population is because individuals with mental illness are often stigmatized by society. I believe that as a follower of Jesus, I have been called to reach out to those who are marginalized and speak up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. To help people that others would not help. I can’t talk about religion in my job since I work for the state, but I believe that my care for my patients is my way of bringing the love of Jesus into a dark place and to bring hope to people who desperately need it.

Thanks for reading! If you have questions about music therapy, you can visit the American Music Therapy Association website at – they have a wealth of information available and ways to find a music therapist in your area. I obviously love talking about my job, so if you have questions about this post or about what I do, feel free to email me at or comment on this post.


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