As part of the training for our internship and career we are prepped to define music therapy to strangers, colleagues, and other professionals. Why? So we can educate, advocate, and validate what we do. When you are asked consistently throughout your professional life what exactly you do for a living, it can be pretty difficult to sum up 4-6 years of training into 5 minutes on the spot. This is why we need to prepare ourselves- because every opportunity of educating someone on music therapy can lead to a new client, a new contract, and a new advocate for our profession.

My definition often varies depending on who I am speaking with and how it could apply to them. I try my best to make it brief (though I could go on and on about the benefits of music therapy) and then reassess if they need or want more information. It might go something like this: “Music Therapy is addressing non-music goals with music and is administered by a board certified music therapist. For example, goals may be similar to occupational therapy and speech therapy. The difference is the modality and innovative intervention of music.”

I have come to a realization why music therapy is so hard to define, this is what I’ve discovered:

1. We often associate music therapy with speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy because we address similar goals. But here is the discrepancy…

  • Speech therapy- uses interventions to address goals involving SPEECH skills.
  • Physical therapy- uses interventions to address goals involving PHYSICAL concerns.
  • Occupational therapy- uses interventions to address goals for activities of daily living to aide in OCCUPATIONAL skills.
  • Music therapy- uses interventions to address goals involving MUSIC skills?…wait that’s not right!

*Goals do not involve music. Music is the medium and is used within the intervention in order to address the goal.

2. We have people that are not music therapists who claim they are doing “music therapy”. It is only considered music therapy when it is administered by a board certified music therapist whom holds the MT-BC credential.

3. Since it is music related, people assume it is entertainment. Music as therapy is used to treat a need or goal. Music as entertainment is a want with no goal direction in place. Read 5 Misconceptions of Music Therapy for further reading on why this is not the case.

Lastly, I leave you with these questions: What worked well for you when prompted to define music therapy? Also, how can you correct misconceptions and help be an advocate for our profession?

-Janelle M. Sikora, MM, MT-BC