What Exactly Separates Music THERAPY from Music ENTERTAINMENT?

Can I be candid for a minute?

One of the most frustrating things I encounter in my job is when I see music entertainment being peddled as music therapy.

I really shouldn't get angry. Anytime someone confuses the two, it's usually because they've never actually SEEN music therapy in action. If they had, they would know the difference right away. They should at least. If what we do is indiscernible from a volunteer musician playing for entertainment, then we need to seriously reevaluate our methods, right?

I want to stress that I don't hold any kind of grudge against the musicians who volunteer their time to play in hospitals, assisted-living facilities, and schools. Nor am I against the idea of volunteer musicians playing in healthcare facilities. I think it's a wonderful idea actually. It's just when I see this being confused for music therapy that I grit my teeth.

But you didn't click on this link to hear me complain. So what exactly is the difference between music entertainment and music therapy?

1. Music therapy moves music from a passive to an active activity.

Listening to music is fantastic, and there's no doubt that just that activity in itself can facilitate therapeutic goals like relaxation. But a music therapist has the skills and training to turn simply listening to music passively into an active experience. Whether it's singing with music, moving to music, playing instruments, and yes, even just listening, I'm able to make my group members active participants in the music. This increases the level of participation and engagement, which is extremely important in the healthcare setting, especially assisted-living facilities for memory care.

2. Music therapy is not concerned with musical outcomes.

I'll put a caveat on this one: music therapy is not concerned with musical outcomes, to the extent that it does not interfere with the therapeutic goals. When I lead a group, I don't care what you sound like, I want you to participate to the very best of your ability! If you've got a beautiful, loud singing voice, fantastic! If saying just one word per line is all you can manage, fantastic! If holding an instrument and playing, even completely out of rhythm, is an accomplishment for you, fantastic!

The musical outcome is not as important to me as the therapeutic outcome.

3. In music therapy, the client is the star of the show.

When I'm doing my job right, the group members in my group should feel that they're part of the music, not me. I'm not there to perform, to earn some applause, or any kind of praise for my guitar playing or singing. I'm there to assist group members with their therapeutic goals, whatever they might be. I use music to accomplish this. And when the members of my group achieve something meaningful to them, I hope they want to applaude for themselves!

Are you in the Atlanta area and want to see first hand just how music therapy differs from music entertainment? We'd love to show you what we do!


Image credit: Flickr user comedy_nose