Feel Better, Heal Better: Therapeutic Music vs. Music Therapy

Connect Healthy Tips Feel Better, Heal Better: Therapeutic Music vs. Music Therapy

Music can lift moods, help with studying, and make workouts more productive and enjoyable.

In health care settings choirs perform, people with Alzheimers listen to music on iPods, and staff play background music for patients.

While all of those ways of listening to music are important, there is a difference between recreational music, therapeutic music, and clinical music therapy.

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), clinical music therapy is the only professional, research-based discipline that actively applies supportive science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals.

Music Therapy is an evidence-based health profession with a strong research foundation. Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of AMTA’s 72 approved colleges and universities, including 1200 hours of clinical training.

Music Therapy degrees require knowledge in psychology, medicine, and music.

Some examples of what credentialed music therapists do include work with older adults to lessen the effects of dementia, work with hospitalized patients to reduce pain, work with children who have autism to improve communication capabilities, and work with people who have Parkinson’s disease to improve motor function.

In hospitals music therapists provide opportunities for:

  • Anxiety and stress reduction
  • Nonpharmacological management of pain and discomfort
  • Positive changes in moods and emotional states
  • Active and positive patient participation in treatment
  • Decreased length of stay

Music therapy may also allow for emotional intimacy with families and caregivers by giving opportunities for meaningful time spent together in positive, creative ways.

AMTA provides free fact sheets about music therapy with specific groups including Music Therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease, Music Therapy and Pain Management, and Music Therapy in Response to Crisis and Trauma.

Therapeutic music is music that is intended to alleviate a physical, emotional, or mental concern. Therapeutic music is offered by Certified Music Practitioners (CMPs) and other trained therapeutic musicians. Therapeutic musicians focus on meeting a patient’s needs with therapeutic music in-the-moment, rather than having the intention of accomplishing a specific goal or outcome. Common usage of therapeutic music usually refers to acoustic music played or sung live in a variety of healthcare settings to enhance the healing atmosphere.

For more information on therapeutic music and music and wellness visit the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra’s Music and Wellness Program and the Music for Healing and Transition Program.

If you don’t have a doctor and would like help finding one, call Healthcare Coordination to make an appointment.

For reliable information on how to take better care of your health or a loved one’s health — or on any health related topic — contact the Health Information Center.

Staffed by medical librarians and certified health information specialists, the Health Information Center offers an extensive health library, digital and print resources, walk-in assistance, and help with research on specific health conditions — all free of charge and available to the public.

This healthy tip is provided by the Health Information Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center.


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