“big blue top” by Owen Benson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0
Source: “big blue top” by Owen Benson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

People ask me all the time, “How does music therapy work?” At first I start preparing an answer about its effectiveness. Quickly, though, it becomes clear they’re asking a question that seems simple but is in fact just as complicated.

They want to know what happens during a session. Do you listen to recordings? Do you sing songs? If so, who does it? The client, or the therapist?

The answer is yes. The practice of music therapy represents a rich and varied set of traditions co-existing under one big tent.

The field made headlines because of former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, after a near-fatal gunshot wound to the head left her unable to speak. Neurologic music therapists used singing to help her regain the power of speech.

Music therapy has a unique ability to reach people with dementia. In those cases clients might be able to make music of their own, or perhaps only listen.

Then you have music psychotherapy, an alternative to the talking cure. Practitioners align themselves with any number of orientations, from psychoanalysis to humanistic psychology to CBT. Therapy happens in any number of ways, including improvisation, writing new lyrics to existing songs, you name it.

These are just a few variations on the theme of music therapy. I’ll be writing about all of them and others in this blog, which makes its debut with this post.

Who am I? I’m living proof that F. Scott Fitzgerald was dead wrong when he said there are no second acts in American lives.

Act I of my life took place primarily on the radio. I worked as the arts and culture correspondent for NPR News in Washington, DC, and I was the creator and host of the public radio program The Next Big Thing. I also wrote a book that purports to be about crosswords but is just as much about psychology and music.

In Act II, I have become a board-certified music therapist, but I have not stopped working as a journalist. I’ll wear both hats as I share stories here about music therapy and research. 

I hope to hear from you in the comments. I’m used to questions with complicated answers.

You are reading

A Sound Mind

Finding Solace in Music

Listening to sad music can make you happy.

For My Health. And Yours.

During national creative arts therapy week, thoughts on why we do what we do.

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

The personal is political––and musical.