When is it NOT music therapy?

The Voice on NBC is one of my favorite shows. I love that they are judging people, at least initially, based solely on their voice and their vocal delivery of a chosen song. As a vocalist myself I have a deep appreciation for what these contestants are bringing to the table. I have been contacted by several loved ones and friends at the mention of what they see as “music therapy” on the show. Not everything that looks like music therapy is music therapy. Hence, this blog post.

There are several ‘Voice’ contestants who have utilized music to enhance their lives, some dramatically so. While a wonderful and worthy use of music, this is NOT music therapy. Let me give you a few examples.

Joselyn Rivera, one of the contestants, was born pre-maturely and subsequently was delayed in her development. At the age of four, the doctor prescribed the use of music to assist with her neurological development. Kudos to the doctor for reading up on current research and realizing the power of music! Joselyn’s parents bought her a karaoke machine. Through singing, she was able to make gains in her communication and cognitive development. While I am thrilled at her success story, I can’t help but wonder how much faster and more she could have accomplished with a trained music therapist. You see, a music therapist would have tailored the music she was singing to help her specifically with targeted areas. A music therapist would have also utilized other individualized music strategies to help Joselyn achieve her developmental goals.

By singing Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” over and over again, Lauren Brooke was able to make strides in school despite having dyslexia. That’s GREAT! How boring to sing the same song over and over again though. There are many strategies that a music therapist can employ to assist a child with the challenges of dyslexia. Had Lauren had a music therapist working with her, she might have indeed sung “The Name Game” as well as other songs that have similar patterns. However, a music therapist would also have used music strategies to assist with auditory processing skills, sequencing, and visual tracking, among other things.

Contestant Diego Val had a disease that disintegrates his hip bones. He spent a good portion of his childhood in hospitals having multiple surgeries and rehabilitation time. He is now a hospital musician and sings to hospitalized children. What a wonderful thing for a musician to do – bring musical entertainment and joy to hospitalized children! I love that he does this! However, this is NOT music therapy. A music therapist in a children’s hospital helps children with pain, emotional expression, cooperation with treatment, supporting them through medical procedures, coma stimulation, and rehabilitation. A music therapist, though capable, is not there for entertainment. The fact that the children enjoy music therapy is a bonus, not the point.

All of these stories highlight the power of music. Can you imagine how much more powerful it is in the hands of a trained professional? A board certified music therapist is trained in how to utilize music and the elements of music to assist their patients to achieve all sorts of non-musical goals. Our tool & partner (music) is indeed powerful. See my earlier blog post about how music can cause harm.

To be clear, not everything that a music therapist can do is music therapy. A music therapist might offer instrument or voice lessons. Also, when I am at typical preschools doing early childhood music education, this is not music therapy. In many instances, a music therapist is uniquely apt to perform these jobs, but even we have to be careful about what is and is not called music therapy.

In closing, I have a quick funny story for you. While telling a friend about what his mother does for a living, my son was explaining that it’s important for a music therapist to be trained (apparently he has been listening). He said, “”someone who is not trained but says that they do music therapy is like me saying that I can do construction because I’ve played with Legos.” While this is a gross exaggeration, I think the kid’s on to something there! For more information on why you’d want a board certified music therapist, check out this page (http://www.cbmt.org/frequently-asked-questions/) on the Certification Board for Music Therapists’ website.

Until next time, be well.
Lillieth Grand

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4 responses to “When is it NOT music therapy?”

  1. Christina Shum

    That’s what I was thinking too while watching the Voice!
    I was happy to see the power of music made evident for a national/international (I’m a music therapist from Canada) audience, but on the other hand, I felt conflicted in terms of a misrepresentation of or confusion between music therapy and the therapeutic potential of music.

    I’m so glad I came across your blog. Thank you!

  2. Jennifer Hezoucky

    Very well said!! I hope many are able to share this to clarify what we do. I know the power of music but there is so much more to be said about music therapy.

  3. Ashley Lundquist

    You have a very smart son! :)

  4. Allie

    Those are exactly the three that I thought of!!! I love the Voice for the same reasons, and I’m glad I’m not the only music therapist watching and going, “Hold on a minute!”

    I feel like we spend a lot of time clarifying what music therapy is, and especially emphasizing the fact that you need a music therapist present, but the other roles at work are often overlooked. I like that you pointed out that music therapists don’t always do music therapy. I think it is important to recognize when we are actually doing music therapy- the “outside” world is confused enough! The least we can do is be consistent and clear. I personally just realized that I only really do 1 music therapy session per week, and I work full time at a day program.

    Loving your posts :)

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