Music therapy is the use of interventions to accomplish individual goals within a therapeutic relationship by a professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy is an allied health profession and one of the expressive therapies, consisting of a process in which a music therapist uses music and all of its facets—physical, emotional, mental, social, aesthetic, and spiritual—to help clients improve their physical and mental health. Music therapists primarily help clients improve their health in several domains, such as cognitive functioning, motor skills, emotional development, social skills, and quality of life, by using music experiences such as free improvisation, singing, and listening to, discussing, and moving to music to achieve treatment goals. It has a wide qualitative and quantitative research literature base and incorporates clinical therapy, psychotherapy, biomusicology, musical acoustics, music theory, psychoacoustics, embodied music cognition, aesthetics of music, sensory integration, and comparative musicology. Referrals to music therapy services may be made by other health care professionals such as physicians, psychologists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. Clients can also choose to pursue music therapy services without a referral (i.e., self-referral).
Music therapists are found in nearly every area of the helping professions. Some commonly found practices include developmental work (communication, motor skills, etc.) with individuals with special needs, songwriting and listening in reminiscence/orientation work with the elderly, processing and relaxation work, and rhythmic entrainment for physical rehabilitation in stroke victims. Music therapy is also used in some medical hospitals, cancer centers, schools, alcohol and drug recovery programs, psychiatric hospitals, and correctional facilities.
Music therapy comes in two different forms: active and receptive. In active therapy, the therapist and patient actively participate in creating music with instruments, their voice, or other objects. This allows for the patient to be creative and expressive through the art of music. Receptive therapy takes place in a more relaxed setting where the therapist plays or makes music to the patient who is free to draw, listen or meditate. Usually the therapist determines the method unless specifically requested by the patient.