Did you hear? The Key Changes team had the wonderful opportunity to be guests on “Take Point!” radio show on 95.9 to discuss music therapy and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We were able to cover topics such as the following: (1) how music therapy works; (2) a hypothetical case study example; (3) potential music therapy interventions; (4) Key Change’s interest in providing music therapy services to the VA; (5) and questions regarding our practice. Thus, the purpose of this blog post is to summarize information presented on Take Point!, from  recent resources, and to clarify misconceptions regarding music therapy and the military.

Music Therapy has been implemented within the military to increase self-expression, increase coping skills, increase cognitive stimulation, and to address attention and endurance. Music therapy has the potential to address a variety of domains and as noted by Ronna Kaplan, “We need more music therapists to work with veterans, caregivers, and family members.”

While the benefits of music therapy in the VA are endless, here are a few examples of potential goals:

  • Increase communication skills. Music therapy can facilitate practice of speech production through filling in lyrics to familiar music or making choices on a device.
  • Increase gait or gross motor skills. Music therapy can provide live music, match clients with the tempo they naturally walk, and slowly increase the tempo to exercise an even gait.
  • Increase family bonding through music. Music therapists can provide music interventions to assist with family interaction and socialization after an emotional trauma.
  • Provide counsel and increase motivation. We provided a live example on the show where the client was withdrawn and depressed after returning from war. We conducted a lyric analysis and counseled the hypothetical client to increase motivation and elevate mood.

In contrast, attention has been drawn to the “Guitars for Vets program”, which has been described as music therapy in an article. Although this is a wonderful program for Vets across the nation I question why this program has been described as music therapy. Playing the guitar has the potential to be a wonderful coping skill and receiving music education can be a positive leisure skill. However, music therapy is an evidenced based innovative intervention to address non-music goals, such as; increasing socialization, elevating mood, decreasing agitation, etc. with music. Music Therapy is administered by a board-certified music therapist who holds the MT-BC credential. Therefore, while the Guitars for Vets program is beneficial, it does not meet the qualifications to be considered music therapy. For this reason, music therapists are still needed in the VA.

Previous research indicates music therapy increases quality of life, improves patient satisfaction, and provides cost savings by decreasing the need for some analgesic medications. I question if patient satisfaction scores in VA programs are higher when music therapy services are offered. If so, this would indicate a positive correlation and suggest music therapy can positively impact other programs within the VA. In conclusion, I leave you with one last question: what other impact do you think music therapy could have on a VA facility?