Music has a way of guiding our emotions. The feeling and theme of a song can guide our feelings down one path or another and allow them to get comfortable there. For musicians, the goal in songwriting and playing is to create music that gets listeners to feel the emotions that went into making the music. The emotional elements of music are powerful, and in that power is possibility. Harnessing those possibilities into help for others is what music therapy is all about.


Music therapy is about manipulating how music affects a person into something innately positive for a variety of different types of patients. Becoming a music therapist involves schooling to teach a wide variety of elements within the profession. However, for musicians who want to give back, there are also ways to provide a type of therapy with your music simply by playing it.

How Music Therapy Works

Music therapy is beneficial for mental health, communication, neurology, pain, physical therapy, etc. Whether a patient is playing music or listening to it, music therapy works by tapping into a patient’s emotions, biology, and brain function. Music has such a positive effect on the brain that it’s used to calm shelter animals and soothe babies born prematurely. Music is universal, so it’s a therapy that is versatile. Music therapy works in the same way that music can affect a normal person listening to a song on the radio, or a musician playing a song on the piano, but in a strategic and deliberate way for each patient and their needs.

Who is Music Therapy For

Music therapy has been used for mental health patients struggling with PTSD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and many other mental health conditions. It’s also used for cancer patients, children with developmental disabilities, those undergoing physical therapy, or patients living with Alzheimer’s. Music therapy can be used in terms of playing it, listening to it, learning it, or in conjunction with other types of therapy. Human behavior has a lot to do with family relationships and and social patterns, and music therapy can have a hand in helping patients from a social-behavioral standpoint as well. Generally speaking, music therapy is for anyone, but where you work as a music therapist will have a lot to do with the type of patients you’ll treat.

How to Become a Music Therapist

Becoming a music therapist begins with a passion for music and music theory. Knowing how to play a variety of different instruments and styles will be paramount in therapy and schooling. You’ll also have to have a passion for helping others through your love of music. A music therapist needs to have attended a university and graduated with a bachelor’s degree or higher taking classes in music, human development, and psychology, among others. An internship is also required to gain some experience, and pass an equivalency program. After that, you’ll take a certification exam. After passing it, you are eligible to find employment as a music therapist. Utilize the growing community of musicians and healthcare professionals you’ll find in schooling to help you find a place of employment or internship you’ll love.

Where to Work as a Music Therapist

Where you’ll work as a music therapist will depend on the type of therapy you’re looking to do, and the type of patients you’re interested in. In a hospital setting, you may work with patients recovering from injury, those being treated for cancer, or patients who are terminal. In a psychiatric setting, you may be working with patients with mental health struggles, cognitive delays, or behavioral problems. In a school setting, you may work with children with developmental or physical delays. In a rehab facility, you will work with recovering addicts who may also have a mental health diagnosis or significant stress related to recovery. In a senior care facility, you may work with patients who have memory loss or physical ailments. Self-expression is so important, and music therapists often help patients do that through music.  

Helping Others as a Musician

There are ways to help others with music therapy as a musician without becoming a licensed music therapist. Though your efforts can’t be utilized as a treatment for others, you can still use your passion as a musician by volunteering in your community. You might offer to play at a retirement center, for sick children, or for patients in a mental health facility. Though you can’t offer treatment, you can still make patients smile and feel happy through your musical talent. Medical insurance only covers certain services, and mental health and counseling are often not under this umbrella. Thus, music therapy is typically uncovered as well. It’s a nationwide problem, so resources like community centers or volunteer musicians to address those needs are so important.


Closing your eyes and listening to a song that speaks to you has a way of taking you to a different place. Music can help a patient to get to that place and find peace. Playing music can encourage motor skills, neurological function, and problem solving. Understanding music helps to communicate and connect with others. Writing music is an outlet for emotion, as is listening to it. Music therapy is a viable career option for musicians who are passionate about music and its capabilities in psychology. Even if you’re just volunteering instead of choosing a music therapy career track, you’re still offering a service that’s been proven to be helpful for so many people in need.

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