A Brief History of Therapeutic Music and the NSBTM

MISSION STATEMENT:  The National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians (NSBTM) defines and upholds educational standards for training certified therapeutic musicians. 

There is archaeological evidence of music being used for its therapeutic value for centuries. The concept of therapeutic music as it is understood today grew out of the field of Music Therapy.

Music Therapy as it is currently understood began after World War I and World War II when community musicians of all types, both amateur and professional, went to Veterans hospitals around the country to play for the thousands of veterans suffering both physical and emotional trauma from the wars. The patients’ notable physical and emotional responses to music led the doctors and nurses to request the hiring of musicians by the hospitals. It was soon evident that the hospital musicians needed some prior training before entering the facility. The professional field of Music Therapy developed from those roots.

Approximately ten years after the modern concept of Music Therapy developed, Dr. Ron Price discovered that playing his harp every day kept his neurological symptoms at bay, and he began a program teaching troubled boys how to play the harp. He had impressive success. Later, he discovered that the neurological improvements from playing the harp were not confined to himself, and he founded a teaching and ensemble performance group. Some students had multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy, some had cerebral palsy, while some had other challenges.

In 1991, Therese Schroeder-Sheker, a harpist specializing in medieval music, opened the first training program in music thanatology. Music thanatology is focused on end-of-life care using voice and harp in individualized response to the changing physiological needs of the patient.  

In 1993, four musicians (Laurie Riley, Martha Lewis, Mary Radspinner, and MaryAnn Schulz) founded The Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP). The program was conceived in response to a need for a training program for those who wished to provide live music for many kinds of patients, but who were not interested in being Music Therapists. Music Therapists work a great deal with groups doing rhythmic exercises or singing songs for the purposes of socializing, neurological development, and psychology, as well as doing prescriptive work with a specific goal for individual patients. On the other hand, therapeutic musicians play at the bedside without soliciting any interaction from patients or jointly setting goals.

Within a few years, four therapeutic musician training programs had been developed, each with their own method of delivery and specific focus, but all having similar objectives. The mission of each of these programs was to train musicians to provide effective therapeutic music at the bedside.

  1. The International Harp Therapy Program (IHTP) offered on site therapeutic music training for harpists only: founded by Christina Tourin.
  2. The International Healing Musician Program (IHMP) offered webinar based training for harpists and other musicians: founded by Stella Benson.
  3. The Clinical Musician Certification Program (CMCP) offered training for harpists and other musicians through independent study: founded by Laurie Riley.   This program was initially named the Clinical Musician Home Study Course.
  4. The Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP) offered on-site training for harpists and other musicians.

In 2003, the founders of these programs, along with several individuals also interested in developing the field of therapeutic music, created the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians (NSBTM). The founding board established curriculum standards, an accreditation process for training programs, and codes of ethics for programs and practitioners. Additionally, they incorporated the organization in 2007. The first Board was seated in 2008 and completed the first accreditation process with the assistance of three outside consultants.  The process resulted in the four programs above becoming accredited. The IHMP closed its certification program in 2010 and is no longer active. The other three programs are still accredited as of 2018. Bedside Harp was accredited by the NSBTM in 2017. Each accredited program must go through a re-accreditation process every 4 years.

To support and promote therapeutic music, the NSBTM developed and sells the NSBTM Therapeutic Music Presentation Planner to assist therapeutic musicians in presenting and communicating effectively about their work.  The NSBTM is committed to supporting the availability of a broad continuum of therapeutic music offerings in healthcare environments, offering passive therapeutic music while respecting the differences and boundaries between music therapy and therapeutic music.