One of the exciting things about music therapy is that the clinical practice is able to help so many people. The field of music therapy has no shortage of possible applications in the areas of both physical and mental health and can treat or help with many different types of health issues. Often offered as a complementary treatment option, music therapy can’t magically replace accepted healthcare interventions like surgery and other procedures when required, but it can be used in treating ailments as serious as cancer and chronic pain. Some of the client populations music therapists are most likely to work with include patients with mental health concerns and physical conditions such as chronic pain, brain injury and cancer.

Mental Health and Music Therapy

Much of the impact music therapy has on an individual is in the area of mental health, the American Music Therapy Association reported. By offering clients nonverbal yet effective ways of expressing their feelings, music therapy can help people who struggle with communication – whether due to medical conditions or simply as a result of a history of less-than-optimal communication practices. The potential of music therapy to lift mood and lead to relaxation makes it an effective component of a multi-faceted approach to treating depression and anxiety, as well as helping clients cope with crisis, trauma or grief.

Music therapists may work with patients seeking help for mental health concerns in a variety of settings, including psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, halfway houses, substance abuse rehabilitation centers and private practice.

What Populations Does a Music Therapist Work With?

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The Intersection Between Music Therapy and Physical Health

Although music therapy is often associated with its roles in assisting in mental wellness – even among patients whose physical health issues contribute to the mental health concerns – it has plenty of applications beyond making patients feel better emotionally. Among patients with chronic pain, the strategic use of music therapy has been linked with reports of pain reduction and can even result in patients choosing to use lower doses of pharmacological pain relievers. Since music therapy doesn’t carry the often unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects many of these drugs have, reducing the need for pain-alleviating medicines through music is remarkable.

Another amazing application of music therapy to physical health disorders is using it to help patients whose medical conditions render communication difficult. For example, those who suffer a stroke, traumatic brain injury or another form of damage to the brain may have trouble finding, remembering and forming words when speaking, but thanks to the way the brain works, they still may be able to sing. Music therapy can help them express their thoughts despite difficulties with normal speech and even be part of the process of retraining their brains to speak again.

The implications of using music therapy to treat physical health ailments are varied and significant. Music therapy has proven effective in every arena from treating autism spectrum disorder to Alzheimer’s disease.

Music Therapy’s Place in Oncology

Cancer can have devastating effects on the body. Unfortunately, cancer treatments, too, are notoriously difficult to tolerate, resulting in a lot of side effects. It’s no wonder that oncology, the branch of medicine focused on treating cancer, often has a place for music therapy as a complementary type of treatment – not as a cure for the disease, but instead as a method of treating symptoms and side effects. Researchers have discovered numerous advantages of music therapy for cancer patients, including lessening anxiety, depression, nausea and vomiting.

Cancer patients who use music therapy in addition to their cancer treatments report a better quality of life.

What Populations Does a Music Therapist Work With?

Why Music Therapy Helps So Many Patients and Problems

Part of the field’s versatility is due to the universal charm of music. Whatever genre, tempo or timbre you most enjoy, music is shown to have the capacity to affect mood and even result in physiological effects on the body such as better respiration and lower blood pressure and pulse. The noticeable effect music has on humans – and even animals – has been recognized since ancient times and across borders. Societies ranging from Ancient Greek civilization to tribal and indigenous groups worldwide have expressed some connection between music and physical or psychological healing.

Like music, the human body runs off of a rhythm, which is one reason why ancient and modern cultures worldwide find music so engaging. The mechanisms by which music helps in treating patients with different conditions vary, from creative self-expression to manipulating rhythm and sound frequency within the brain or body, according to the American Psychological Association.

As researchers continue to study how, why and how much music impacts healing and wellness, it’s likely that the use of music therapy will only grow.

Additional Resources

What Does a Music Therapist Do?

What Makes Someone a Good Music Therapist?

What Is the Difference Between Music Therapy and Music Education?

What Are Some Other Careers Related to Music Therapy?