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What is Therapeutic Music?

Mar 4, 2021
Core Spirit member since Mar 4, 2021
Reading time 5 min.

Therapeutic Music is not the same as Music Therapy!

The terminology can be confusing, as the words seem interchangeable, but these are very different aspects of healing through music.

Therapeutic music is an evidence-based modality and essential healthcare service intentionally provided one-on-one. Therapeutic Music utilizes compassionate presence with the intrinsic qualities of music, like melody, harmony, and rhythm.

But it’s so much more than just sound healing.

What makes a Therapeutic Musician?

A Therapeutic Musician a graduate of a handful of programs accredited by the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians. While “Therapeutic Musician” is the general term for these graduates, they may also be known by their program-specific professional titles: Certified Clinical Musician, Certified Therapeutic Harp Practitioner, Certified Harp Therapist, and Certified Music Practitioner.

Most of these programs are self-study, and mandate their students to play harp and perhaps vocalize. However, the most comprehensive program available is The Music for Healing and Transition Program, which allows students to certify on a number of melodic instruments, while allowing in-person classes, hosted by participating hospitals, to benefit students and patients alike.

Each Therapeutic Musician is required to regularly complete Continuing Education Credits in order to maintain their certification. Further, they work within a Scope of Practice and are bound by a Code of Ethics in order to protect the patient, meet HIPAA standards, and to provide the best quality of care.

Believe it or not… Music can be harmful!

Damage can be done through music, if the musician isn’t properly educated. While a volunteer musician performs for an audience, a Therapeutic Musician has been trained to provide a specific healthcare service. Untrained musicians may accidentally trigger injurious physical and emotional states. For more information about Music Induced Harm, please read this abstract.

What exactly does a Therapeutic Musician do?

A Music Therapist uses music to promote changes in behavior and to rehabilitate normal functions of living. This modality is focused on creating quality of life for patients who require physical or behavioral therapy.

A Therapeutic Musician uses music to create an environment which supports a patient’s ability to heal, and to ease the process of life and death transitions. In this case, the music itself is the therapy.

The scope of practice for a Therapeutic Musician differs greatly from that of a Music Therapist. While a Music Therapist may solicit patient participation with making music, a Therapeutic Musician is charged with facilitating a session alone. This has a number of benefits: this service is more accessible to patients of varying abilities, the patient can relax, and the music can positively affect them even as they sleep!

Working one-on-one is key to the work of a Therapeutic Musician. By focusing on the individual needs of a patient, a number of issues can be successfully addressed. A Therapeutic Musician observes each patient, and customizes that session to meet the current exigencies, whether those be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. This method of addressing the patient as a whole differs greatly from the standard Western practice of curing, which is simply the removal of symptoms.

Depending on the observations made of the patient, a Therapeutic Musician may alter the tempo, mode, scale, dynamics, texture, or any other variables to specifically affect a patient’s biological functions, mood, memory, or spiritual unease.

Generally a Therapeutic Music session will last around twenty minutes. In this time, the patient often falls asleep. Sometimes a patient may experience an emotional response or require additional medical attention to address their needs.

Therapeutic Music is not a cure-all, but may be referred to as “prescriptive music” due to its ability to holistically address each patient.

What are the effects?

Therapeutic Music has a wide variety of effects on an individual. Even staff and visitors in proximity benefit from the music!

A short list provided by the NSBTM, states that benefits can include, but are not limited to:

- Distraction

- Disassociation from the present situation

- Refocus of attention

- Altering the sense of time

- Reprieve from the present situation

- Relieving anxiety of the critically ill

- Reducing stress and blood pressure of the chronically ill

- Augmenting pain management

- Bridge for communication between loved ones

- Relieving body and mental tension of the pre-surgery patient

- Accelerating physical healing of post-surgery and injured patients

- Easing the birth delivery process

- Aiding mental focus in Alzheimer’s patients by lifting and clearing the consciousness

- Assisting the dying by facilitating ease in the transition process

Where can I find Therapeutic Music?

Therapeutic Music can be found in all sorts of places. While hospitals and hospices are primary locations, a Therapeutic Musician may work anywhere healing takes place: dental offices, mental health clinics, chiropractic and massage offices, nursing homes, psychiatric facilities, treatment centers, or in private practice.

A Therapeutic Musician may even provide home calls, whether live or virtual. This option allows many more opportunities for patients who may otherwise be unable to access this healthcare. Additionally, certain Medicare funds can be allocated specifically for Therapeutic Music sessions!

Even though the positive effects of therapeutic music date back to the age of Pythagoras, modern Western healthcare has yet to incorporate this modality across the board. That means that only certain hospitals include Therapeutic Music in their services. Sometimes this is found in Spiritual Care, Volunteer Services, or Palliative Care.

Like the journey that Acupuncture has seen, it is hoped that Therapeutic Music will soon be widely accepted in the healthcare world, and even covered by health insurance.

In Conclusion

There are many differences in these modalities, but that doesn’t mean you have to choose between them! Music Therapists and Therapeutic Musicians can work side by side due to their different training, techniques, and goals. Because of this, patients can benefit from both of these therapeutic services.

If you are interested in seeking Therapeutic Music services, please search the database of the Institute for Healing through Sound and Music to find a Therapeutic Musician near you!

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