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Timeline: A Conversation About Music Therapy

U.S. Public Domain
A music therapist is trained to use music clinically to achieve clinical goals.

For the past few episodes we’ve been exploring different aspects of music therapy. We’ve talked about how music is being used to treat those with chronic pain, dementia, memory loss and ADHD. This episode, we thought it would be nice to talk to a practitioner of the growing field…


Maggie: I’m Maggie Connors and I’m a board-certified music therapist. I had always been really involved in music. I played in the VYO. I’m a bassoonist. It’s my primary instrument. I loved working with people and working with kids. I loved watching how people interact and some of that psychology, sociology aspects. Music therapy was this really interesting Venn-diagram where everything was in that little center in the middle.

James: I asked Maggie to give us a brief definition of what music therapy is in her own words. She says that her job is to use music clinically to achieve clinical goals.

Maggie: So we’re gonna work in a lot of different domain areas. It might look like we’re teaching music or we’re teaching an instrument. We can use music as an external stimuli to help somebody connect with what’s going on in their body and also move them into a different psychological, physiological state.

You might hear this talked about in music therapy as the iso-priniciple. If I have a student or a patient that’s really angry, really upset, really excited, I’m gonna start whatever we’re doing, whether it’s instrument playing or singing or dancing, we’re gonna start wherever they are. If they’re really excited, if they’re really mad, we’re match their level and then I’m gonna change it. Maybe I’ll try slowing down a little on the guitar, are they gonna follow me? And if they don’t, maybe I’ll go back to playing the fast, loud, crazy music. All with the goal and the hope and the training to move them from wherever they are to where we want to be.

James: Emphasis on the patient and their clinical needs is paramount to the music therapist. Maggie shared that she knows the treatment is working when she hears the patient say…

Maggie: “This is the best I’ve felt all day,” or “this totally turned my day around.” “I was having a horrible day and now I feel like I’ve turned a corner.” Parents will say, “It’s so great to see my kid being kid,” or “to see what their capable of and see them at their highest potential.”

James: I’ve been reading a great deal about music therapy lately and I’ve noticed two troubling trends. First, the research is grossly underfunded and incomplete and second, there seems to be a presupposed idea that becoming a music therapist is easy and doesn’t require much study or preparation.

Maggie: This is where we get into the reality that music therapy has been around for a long time, back into World War I and World War II, but it’s still young. It’s still a growing profession. Many people don’t know the possibility of what could something look like with a trained music therapist. We’re working with populations that have a lot of different needs and different ways of communicating; or even, vulnerable populations where if you open a box, you have to be able to close it. A lot of the times I think of sensory regulation. If you don’t have any idea how to work with somebody, and don’t have the training to work with somebody that is going into sensory overload, hyper-sensitive or hypo-sensitive, you can actually cause harm.

You want a trained music therapist. You want a board-certified music therapist. We have our standards of practice and our code of ethics. We have all of this training and continuing education in order to address these needs.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music.

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