Music therapy is defined as the systematic application of music in the treatment of the physiological and psychosocial aspects of an illness or disability. The appeal of music is universal and so it can be successfully used as a medium of communication across various national and social barriers. Music can serve as an emotional outlet for people who have difficulty in expressing themselves in words. It helps build relationships and assists in learning and in communicating. Music has been known to reduce high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, depression and insomnia. It is used in cancer treatment to help reduce the pain, anxiety and nausea that is caused by chemotherapy. While Music Therapy doesn't cure diseases, it can certainly help in aiding healing by enriching the patient's emotional life.
Music has been used as a healing medium since very ancient times. References to the therapeutic use of music can be found in Biblical Scriptures - most notably David playing music to soothe King Saul - and in various historical writings from India, China, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Native Americans too believed in the efficacy of music in healing both the body and the soul, and made it an integral part of their healing rituals. Music Therapy in modern times became recognized as an important aspect of medical treatment during the Second World War when doctors and nurses in US Veteran Administration hospitals noticed the beneficial effects of music on the physical and mental states of hospitalized soldiers. It was realized however that a more formalized approach and training was required for the therapists to work more effectively with patients, and so the idea of having formal training programs in Music Therapy came into being. The Michigan State University in the USA was the first to introduce and establish the first Music Therapy degree program in the world. In 1950, the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) was formed by professional Music Therapists in the USA and another such professional organization, the American Association for Music Therapy, came into being in the nineteen seventies. These two organizations merged in 1998 to form the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). The purpose of the American Music Therapy Association is to ensure the progressive development and the therapeutic use of music in rehabilitation, special education and medical and community environment. For this purpose the American Music Therapy Association seeks to ensure the advancement of public education and knowledge, professional training and ethical standards of qualified therapists, and conducting research and publishing the findings and clinical studies for sharing with other professionals in publications such as 'The Journal of Music Therapy', ''Music Therapy', and 'Music Therapy Perspectives'.
The American Music Therapy Association is responsible for deciding the criteria for the education and professional training of Music Therapists. There are specific curriculum requirements for the Music Therapy program. These include courses in Music, Psychology, biological, social, and behavioral sciences, disabling conditions, research analysis, physiology, acoustics, and general studies. A person interested in a career as a Music Therapist would also need to have a basic interest in both music and in helping people. This is more of a vocation than a career and it is necessary to have qualities such as empathy and patience in dealing with a wide variety of people with a wide variety of needs and requirements. It also wouldn't hurt to be creative, imaginative, open-minded, and have a strong self-awareness.
Presently there are around 68 undergraduate and 25 graduate AMTA approved programs in Music Therapy in the USA. Students, based upon their qualifications, can decide to join the certification program at either the Bachelor's or Master's level. The undergraduate program deals with the practical application of Music Therapy in field-work at community centers or special needs camps. The idea is for students to develop the ability of understanding the needs and requirements of their clients and to create and implement suitable plans for their treatment. The postgraduate program requires a bachelor's degree in either Music Therapy or any other discipline and covers a more in-depth study program.
Students passing the national certification examination in Music Therapy become Board Certified (MT-BC) and are now eligible to work as professional Music Therapists. Aside from the MT-BC certification, other professional designations listed with the National Music Therapy Register are Registered Music Therapist (RMT), Certified Music Therapist (CMT), and Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT). Without the qualifications mentioned above, a Music Therapist cannot practice professionally. Once qualified Music Therapists have various options for professional practice. They can be employed in general, psychiatric, and maximum security hospitals, prisons, rehabilitation centers, community mental health agencies, nursing homes, hospices, day care centers, schools, retirement homes, detention centers, homeless shelters, half-way homes, probation and parole programs, alcohol and drug treatment centers, churches, in private practice, and in many other places where music might prove a calming and effective aid.