What is Therapeutic Music?
Therapeutic music is live acoustic music, played or sung, and specifically tailored to the patient’s immediate need. It is an art based on the science of sound.

What Does a Therapeutic Musician Do?
A therapeutic musician uses the inherent healing elements of live music and sound to enhance the environment for patients in healthcare settings, making it more conducive to the human healing process.

Click here for a Sample Job Description for a therapeutic musician.   This is a SAMPLE job description only, intended to help a facility develop their own job description for a therapeutic musician. 

How is a Recipient’s Environment Enhanced?
A therapeutic musician enhances the environment by applying therapeutic music.

  • The purpose is not to entertain or to give a performance.
  • The intention is to promote healing – as opposed to curing – by bringing the body, mind and spirit into balance. Healing is a holistic view of human health pertaining to all aspects of the human being – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wholeness – not just the physical aspect. Curing is done by doctors and mainstream, or allopathic, medicine.
  • The music affects the whole-person because the effects are four-fold:
    • Physical
    • Emotional
    • Mental
    • Spiritual
  • Music is often provided one-on-one in practice.

Who Benefits from Therapeutic Music?
Those who commonly greatly benefit are persons experiencing life’s transitions, such as birthing and dying, and those experiencing terminal illness, injury, chronic illness and/or disease. This may include babies in NICU, patients in Hospice care, people recovering from strokes and other TBI and children coping with life threatening or emotional crises. Facility staff and family members accompanying the patient also benefit from the music.

What are the Benefits of Therapeutic Music?
Benefits can include, but are not limited to:

  • Distraction
  • Disassociation from the present situation
  • Refocus of attention
  • Altering the sense of time
  • Reprieve from the present situation
  • Relieving anxiety of the critically ill
  • Reducing stress and blood pressure of the chronically ill
  • Augmenting pain management
  • Bridge for communication between loved ones

Continuing Situational Benefits of Therapeutic Music

  • Relieving body and mental tension of the pre-surgery patient
  • Accelerating physical healing of post-surgery and injured patients
  • Easing the birth delivery process
  • Aiding mental focus in Alzheimer’s patients by lifting and clearing the consciousness
  • Assisting the dying by facilitating ease in the transition process

What is a Typical Therapeutic Music Session Like?
The therapeutic musician is trained to assess the patient’s behavior, condition and communication ability in order to meet the patient’s immediate needs with appropriate therapeutic music.

  • Music may be familiar or unfamiliar, structured (such as written tunes) or improvised, using rhythmic or arrhythmic tempos, depending on the situation and the patient’s needs.
  • In working with the mood of a patient, the therapeutic musician may play music which falls into three types: merry, sad and soothing.
  • Playing in different modes (Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian and Aeolian) is also helpful in meeting the patient’s needs.

How Are Therapeutic Musicians Trained?
There are three types of therapeutic musician training programs: classroom-taught, online with some on-site internship requirements and self-paced independent study. The following programs are accredited by the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians (NSBTM). Students receiving certification through one of these programs have met a common set of minimum standards set by the Board which include an extensive curriculum, demonstrating musical proficiency and completing at least 45 hours of hospice/hospital internship playing at bedside. All of these programs assign mentors to work with new students.

  • Information about the classroom-based the Music for Healing and Transition Program can be found at www.mhtp.org  Graduates are known as Certified Music Practitioners (CMP).
  • Information about the independent-study-based Clinical Musician Home Study Course can be found at www.harpforhealing.com  Graduates are known as Certified Clinical Musicians (CCM).
  • Information about the online-training-based International Harp Therapy Program can be found at www.harptherapyinternational.com  Graduates are known as Certified Therapeutic Harp Practitioners (CTHP).
  • Information about the hospital-hosted training program Bedside Harp can be found at http://www.bedsideharp.com/. Graduates are known as Certified Harp Therapists (CHT). 

There are other therapeutic musician programs which are recognized locally by health care organizations in their parts of the country, but which for various reasons are not nationally accredited. Therapeutic musician training programs affiliated with the NSBTM include

Why is Live Music Preferred?
There are many benefits from a live person interacting with the patient and live music is preferred for several reasons:

  • There is no substitute for personal attention.
  • Music can be immediately altered to best meet the patient’s needs.
  • Because acoustic (live) music is not compressed and digitized like recorded music is, it contains a much richer spectrum of vibrations and harmonics.

Where Do Therapeutic Musicians Work?
Therapeutic musicians work in a wide variety of healthcare settings, but primarily at the bedside of patients in clinical environments including hospitals, highly skilled nursing, treatment centers, nursing homes and hospice (palliative care) facilities. In the hospital, they may work in areas that include pre-op, recovery, ambulatory care, extended care, emergency room, surgical intensive care, intensive care, neonatal intensive care, pediatric, psychiatric, dialysis and cancer treatment units. Therapeutic musicians may also work in massage and physical therapy, educational institutions, chiropractic and dental offices.

What are Some Misconceptions about Therapeutic Music ?
One common misconception is that there is only one type or style of music that is beneficial for all patients. This is not true. Each patient has unique needs and the patient’s circumstances determine the type of music used. Other misconceptions are that therapeutic musicians are merely entertainers, or have not received sufficient training. These are also false. Therapeutic musicians are certified through extensive training programs which provide high-quality training, require internships and hold high standards for each graduate.

Is There Research to Support Therapeutic Music?
The documented effects of music on mood and physiology date back to the ancient Greeks, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Today the effectiveness of music as a healing modality has been well-documented in music therapy, music-medicine, nursing, psychology and other scientific landscapes.

Recently several controlled studies have been published which demonstrate the efficacy of live, therapeutic music in decreasing pain and anxiety, and in regulating heart rhythms. Additional information about research results can be found on these Web sites:

What is the Difference between a Music Therapist and a Therapeutic Musician?            Music therapy is prescriptive, interactive, and requires a 4-year college degree. The music therapist uses musical instruments and music making as therapeutic tools primarily to rehabilitate the normal functions of living and improve quality of life through studying and promoting measurable changes in behavior.

Therapeutic music is non-prescriptive, passive, and requires a certification. A certified therapeutic musician uses the artistic application of the intrinsic elements of live music and sound to provide an environment conducive to the healing process.

Who is Qualified to Practice Therapeutic Music?
Musicians who complete an approved therapeutic musician curricula with supervised internships from an accredited training program are qualified to practice as therapeutic musicians. Certified graduates are encouraged to enhance their proficiency with Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) obtaining credits through participation in conferences, workshops, lectures and webinars on a variety of approved topics relevant to the field of Therapeutic Music.

What is the National Standard’s Board for Therapeutic Musicians (NSBTM)?
The National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians is a governing body for accredited programs that graduate therapeutic musicians. Its purpose is to develop and advance the profession of bedside therapeutic music. The organization’s Website includes information about the field of therapeutic music, certified training programs and resources and events related to therapeutic music. Affiliated NSBTM memberships are available in categories of education, service placement and healthcare. The NSBTM website is www.nsbtm.org

How are Therapeutic Musicians paid?
Each healthcare facility funds therapeutic music differently. Funds may come out of a particular department’s budget, from the facility’s foundation, auxiliary or special fund or grant sources. Some therapeutic musicians work as employees, others are in private practice.

What is the Future of Therapeutic Music?

Since the inception of the therapeutic music field in the early 1990’s, hundreds of well-trained and certified therapeutic musicians have served humanity and made a difference in the comfort care of patients.  Many healthcare facility administrators recognize the significant benefits that live therapeutic music brings to their patients, families, staff, the organization’s reputation, and enhanced patient satisfaction. Facilities also recognize the need for musicians to be trained and certified in order to understand and follow proper protocols for the protection of the patients, staff, and musician.

The practice of therapeutic music is expanding beyond the clinical setting. Therapeutic music can be utilized in offices, veterinary clinics and shelters, yoga and meditation centers, and many other locations where relaxation and stress relief will increase performance, satisfaction, and overall health. On-line platforms are also making it possible for certified therapeutic musicians to bring live therapeutic music to people who are home-bound or in remote locations. The possibilities are endless.