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What You Need to Know About Music Therapy

Hi, I am Jodie Ross, the board certified music therapist at The Baddour Center. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Music from Mississippi University for Women in 2010. I completed my six-month internship at The Baddour Center and have been here ever since! At Baddour, I am mostly seen directing the Wonder Player productions or the creative movement group, Hearts in Motion, but my main job duty is to provide music therapy services to the residents of Baddour. 

Have you ever heard of music therapy? It made national headlines a few years ago when Congresswoman Gabby Giffords received music therapy treatment to help her successfully relearn speech after experiencing a traumatic brain injury due to a bullet wound. Since January is Social Media Advocacy Month for music therapy, I want to tell you more about music therapy and what we music therapists do. 

What exactly is music therapy? 
Before I tell you, here are some common misconceptions you may have heard or thought yourself:


  • Music therapy is when I listen to music on the radio or my iPod to help me calm down or relax.
  • Music therapy is what that sweet lady does when she comes to entertain the residents at the nursing home by playing the piano for them.
  • Music therapy is some new-age therapy that is not scientifically proven and does not really work. 

The official definition by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) states, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Based on this definition, music therapy:

  • Is supported by credible, scientific research
  • Uses music interventions (or activities) to work towards a person’s or group’s individualized goals that are based on the findings of an assessment
  • Has to be provided by a music therapist who has completed a degree program in music therapy and passed the national board certification exam 

Simply put, music therapy is an evidence-based, client-centered therapy that is provided by a trained and certified clinician. It is important to recognize that a music therapist be board certified. By holding the nationally recognized credentials of MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified), music therapists show employers, clients, as well as clients’ families, that they are being held to a professional standard and code of ethics. Volunteer musicians who play for entertainment or music teachers who give music lessons to persons with disabilities are not music therapists. What they are doing may be very beneficial and “therapeutic” to the persons they are serving, but it cannot be called music therapy. 

Who can benefit from music therapy?
Music’s greatest trait is that it’s universal, so everyone – no matter your age, skill level, musical talent, or language spoken – can relate to it in some way. Therefore, music therapists work with quite a variety of populations, such as children and adults with developmental disabilities (i.e., autism, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities) and learning disabilities, older adults with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, infants placed in the NICU for prematurity or other medical reasons, people with substance abuse issues, psychiatric disorders, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain…just to name a few.

Where can you find a music therapist? 
Since there are numerous populations served by music therapists, you can find music therapists working in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities, and even in their own private practices. To find a certified music therapist near you, visit

What does a music therapy session look like?
Music therapy can be provided in individual or group sessions. During the initial sessions an assessment is giving using music interventions to assess different skill areas, including fine and gross motor movement, short- and long-term memory, attention span, impulse control, verbal skills, auditory skills, emotional expression, and social skills.

From the assessment findings, goals are created for the individual or group. Some goals that may implemented are to increase participation, attention to task, increase positive social interaction, range of motion, verbalization, to improve an education skill (i.e. counting, recognizing colors, numbers, and/or letters), self-esteem, memory, level of independence, and to decrease anxiety.

Objectives are also written for each goal. If a person has a goal to improve counting skills, the objective may be, “Client A will count correctly from 1 to 5 at least ‘x’ number of times during each session.” The music therapist uses these goals and objectives to create a session plan with music interventions that address those specific goals, such as singing, instrument playing and improvisation, songwriting, lyric discussion, music-assisted relaxation, and creative movement.

The results of each session is documented on a progress note and is used to track the progress of the individual or group throughout music therapy treatment.

What does music therapy specifically look like at Baddour?
Music therapy is provided to both individuals and groups. There are currently 3 music therapy groups with 3-10 residents in each one. For the individual sessions, 8-10 residents are chosen to participate based on recommendations from Case Managers and staff in the Education & Research department, as well as behavioral information and goals from other areas at Baddour; then, a day and time is selected for their session based on their schedules. The individual sessions are provided on a 3-month rotation basis so that more residents have an opportunity to experience and benefit from music therapy. The most common goals addressed with the Baddour residents are the goal areas mentioned above. The music interventions the residents enjoy most for working on their goals are singing, playing instruments, songwriting, and using music apps on the iPad.

When the residents are asked to explain music therapy, they often say that it is fun and helps them deal with their feelings. They are able to recognize the importance of music therapy in their lives and benefit from the social interaction and one-on-one time that music therapy sessions provide. 

Marc Anthony states, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I fully believe I live out that quote each day as I serve the residents of The Baddour Center. To know that I make a difference in others by using my God-given talents richly blesses me. Helping them tap into their inner creativity through creative arts classes and positively impacting their lives through music therapy not only brings them joy but brings me joy as well.

Posted by Mary Algee at 11:40 AM