Popular Music Therapy Questions: What You Need to Know

Music therapy is increasing in popularity in the United States and around the world. Although this form of treatment is gaining notoriety, many still have questions about what it is, what it does and where to find it. Some of the most frequently asked questions are:

  1. What is music therapy?
  2. How did music therapy get started?
  3. What are the health benefits of music therapy?
  4. Where can I access music therapy?
  5. Where can I learn more about music therapy?

These are just a few of the most popular questions we get about music therapy, and in this blog post we are here to answer them all. Each question has a long detailed response, so we will also give you a link to find more information.

Music Therapy Questions and Answers  

  1. What Is Music Therapy?

Music Therapist, Oliver Jacobson composes a song with a young patient in the Peterson Family Foundation’s Music Therapy studio, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Music therapy involves a trained and certified professional using music in a clinical and evidence-based way to accomplish each patient’s individualized objective. Music is used to reduce a patient’s pain, offers them the ability to express themselves without words and facilitates relaxation through singing, playing instruments, writing songs or listening to music. This popular and longstanding psychology practice uses the physical, emotional, mental, aesthetic and spiritual facets of music to help people improve their overall health.

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) says this form of treatment can promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation. Most of the time, live music is used because it is more flexible and offers a greater chance for interaction between the therapist and patient. You can read more about what music therapy is in our blog post, “What is Music Therapy for Kids?”

  1. How Did Music Therapy Get Started?

Music therapy has a long and diverse history. It is prevalent in Greek mythology, philosophy and Native American culture; in our recent history, music therapy was a prominent resource during World War I and World War II. During these two historic wars, community musicians volunteered their time and played for veterans and the wounded in hospitals. Both patients and nurses noticed a difference in mood and experienced a positive emotional response to the music. They noted feeling an improvement in their outlook and felt less pain. The music was so well received that doctors began hiring musicians to play for soldiers. Music therapy was recently used as a tool to help veterans in 2012. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, the NEA brought a music therapy program to patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This program reflects the growing trend of creative art therapy programs in healthcare settings.

An event held at the Pentagon in 2014 showcased military veterans’ art work that expressed their “Invisible Wounds.” Art therapists as well as music therapists and professional creative writers took service members through a creative process, allowing them to reflect and organize thoughts that had been troubling them.

The involvement of music therapy in the military is an incredible example of how powerful and meaningful it is to be able to express one’s emotions during a difficult time. You can learn more about music therapy’s place in history here.

  1. What Are the Health Benefits of Music Therapy?

Given the historical importance of music therapy, it’s not surprising that it is found to:

  • Reduce patients’ pain
  • Provide patients with the ability to express themselves without words
  • Facilitate relaxation through singing, playing instruments, writing songs or listening to music

President Jeff Peterson and our amazing music therapists at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Music therapy plays a critical role in helping children mentally and physically while in hospitals. As we explained in our Health Benefits of Music Therapy blog post, “Music therapy can help to relieve pain and reduce stress and anxiety for the patient, resulting in physiological changes, including:

  • Improved respiration
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved cardiac output
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Relaxed muscle tension

This form of therapy has been shown to have a significant effect on a patient’s perceived effectiveness of treatment, including pain reduction, relaxation, respiration rate, and lower levels of anxiety.”

  1. Where Can I Access Music Therapy?

At Peterson Family Foundation, our mission is to get music therapy programs in as many hospitals as possible. The current programs and hospitals we support include:

One example of the work we do can be explained by our partnership with the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, where the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program is an important part of the Creative Arts team. This hospital uses music therapy to reach physical, neurological, communicative, emotional, educational and behavioral goals to promote positive therapeutic change. The therapists also use music therapy to look at the complete child or teen, to bring forth their abilities and provide opportunities for creative self-expression and to find normalcy in the hospital environment. Music therapy provides a space for the child to be a child, and allows the patient to showcase their creative side.

Patients admitted to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital have the opportunity to receive music therapy at their bedside. Child Life Specialists along with other health care professionals refer patients for music therapy, and music therapists such as Oliver Jacobson visit each child with a guitar and rolling cart of instruments. Families are often included in sessions and are encouraged to participate; family support is a core value of music therapy services at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Julie Pollman, a Child Life Services teacher and supervisor notes that, “Parents have reported that music was the only thing to bring a smile to their child’s lips during their hospital admission.”

There is also outpatient care available provided by Meghan Hartley, a Music Therapist and Child Life Specialist. She provides services to the Outpatient Pediatric Infusion Clinic at Mission Bay.

Group therapy is an option for patients at Benioff Children’s Hospital as well. The hospital’s All-Star Room is turned into the “Open Music Studio,” where children and teens, ages five and up, come and work together on whatever musical projects interest them. These projects include:

  • Group music making
  • Songwriting
  • Recording
  • Producing
  • Beat-making
  • Clinical guitar, piano, drum and voice lessons

An essential part of the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program at UCSF is Oliver Jacobson, a board-certified music therapist and neurologic music therapist employed through Child Life Services. During his time with patients, he acknowledges the poking, pain and suffering that children and teens experience during their time in the hospital, but also notices when they become more vulnerable through music therapy.

“I think those ‘aha’ moments in my sessions are when I see those walls come down and kids open up and trust me and trust the experience – that it’s not giving them pain, it’s actually even enjoyed and giving them good feelings. There is a shift in a session when those walls come down and I get to see kids flourish into who they are and want to be.” Jacobson was even able to perform with Chris Martin of Coldplay for patients at the hospital before Martin’s Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show.

  1. Where Can I Learn More About Music Therapy?

Educating yourself on music therapy can help you understand the importance and need for this treatment.

Along with our website, we recommend families do reading of their own to educate themselves about music therapy. We recommend these five books to learn more about this form of treatment:

  1. The Music Therapy Profession: Inspiring Health, Wellness, and Joy by Christine Korb
  2. Music Medicine: The Science and Spirit of Healing Yourself with Sound by Christine Stevens
  3. How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond by John Powell
  4. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levetin
  5. Tune In: A Music Therapy Approach to Life: Use Music Intentionally to Curb Stress, Boost Morale, and Restore Health by Jennifer Buchanan

Support Music Therapy

We hope that these answers to the most popular questions about music therapy have inspired you to learn and do more. You can also get involved in music therapy by donating to our foundation so we can continue to support hospitals like the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and bring new programs to other programs nationally and internationally. Visit our donations page today to contribute.

About the Peterson Family Foundation

The Peterson Family Foundation was founded in 2003 to enhance, restore and improve the quality of life for all human beings. Our primary mission is to seek out and support experts and institutions dedicated to enhancing and improving the lives of people dealing with illnesses requiring a stay at a medical institution by bringing music therapy to as many hospitals as possible. Learn more at our website or share your story with us.