When a shooting left Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with a critical brain injury, she could not speak a word—but she could sing. At first, she and her certified music therapist sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star together. Then other classic songs soon followed and, in time, music therapy became a key component of her recovery process.

Music Therapy and the Chronically Ill

Singing aided Gabbie Gifford’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury by helping her relearnhow to form words and sounds. In studies, music therapy has also been shown to reduce anxiety and ease the symptoms associated with depression. Music therapy can even help the chronically ill cope with their diseases. Several studies suggest that music can benefit children with autism. Characterized by a variety of impairments in social and verbal functioning, autism makes learning extremely difficult. In many cases, music therapists are highly effective at helping autistic children express their creativity and tolerate new experiences.

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Much More Than a Talented Musician

Many medical needs can be addressed by a professional music therapist. Unlike other supportive services such as speech therapy and physical therapy (which tend to have highly delineated goals), research in musical therapy supports its application in a wide range of health care environments. A certified music therapist is qualified to:

  • Manage Stress
  • Alleviate Pain
  • Enhance Memory
  • Improve Communication
  • Promote Physical Rehabilitation

Music therapists use the power of music to help individuals attain and maintain their maximum physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. Young children, adolescents, the elderly, people with learning disabilities, acute and chronic pain sufferers, and the physically disabled can all benefit from the healing and enhanced quality of life that comes from music therapy.

Where Certified Music Therapists Come From

Music therapists are found in a range of settings, including medical hospitals, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, mental health facilities, senior care residences, and agencies serving the developmentally disabled. Those who complete their approved bachelor’s or master’s degree musical therapy curriculum can hold the credential of music therapist, board certified (MTBC) and be officially recognized by their state.

State recognition brings several benefits to a professional music therapist. It increases service referrals, improves job opportunities, and initiates private and public funding, as most music therapy programs require their therapists to have state-accredited credentials. State recognition can also provide validation of the contributions a music therapist can make as a member of a health care treatment team. An advanced degree in music therapy, combined with state recognition, puts most clinical music therapists on the same level as other professional medical practices.

Music Therapists Always Come Prepared

The tools of the trade for a music therapist often include instruments such as maracas, bells, chimes, drums, whistles, tambourines, and guitars. Like a personal trainer, they always come into a situation ready to assess a patient’s strengths and needs. Then, working closely with their patient to establish treatment objectives, they develop a treatment protocol tailored to meet that individual’s specific goals. Qualified to help their patients feel better cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physically, a music therapist approaches his or her profession armed with the knowledge of how music can affect brain and behavior function—and they come ready to use that knowledge to help the people they treat feel better.


  1. How to find a music therapist. Music Therapy website. http://www.musictherapy.org/about/find/.
  2. Music therapy. Maryville University website. http://www.maryville.edu/hp/music-therapy/.
  3. Pelliitteri J. Music therapy in the special education setting. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation. 2000;11(3&4):379-391. http://www.soundconnectionsmt.com/docs/Music%20Therapy%20in%20Special%20Education.pdf/a>.
  4. State recognition. Certification Board for Music Therapists website.