Where did Music Therapy come from?

Most of us know that music has been used for healing for centuries. There are many resources on this topic that talk about ancient cultures and medicine men using healing music rituals. But how did Music Therapy become an established profession?

The widespread use of music in the treatment of psychiatric disorders happened in the 1940s during a movement towards a more holistic treatment philosophy. During World War II, musicians volunteered to organize music programs for patients and the effects of listening or performing music on the patients began to be documented and then studied. Training programs on the therapeutic uses of music were started in several colleges and universities and a national organization was developed.

The National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) held its first conference in December of 1950. NAMT focused on establishing standards of practice and education for music therapists. Scholarly publications were established and the Journal of Music Therapy (JMT), first edited by William Sears, became the source for research in music therapy.

E. Thayer Gaston was the chairman of the Music Education Department at the University of Kansas and he spearheaded the cause of music therapy, established the first internship, and developed the first graduate program in music therapy in the United States at the University of Kansas.

In 1956, NAMT established the first credential in music therapy: Registered Music Therapist (RMT), which provided assurance to employers that the therapist had med educational and clinical standards set by NAMT and the National Association for Schools of Music (NASM), the accrediting agency.

Music therapy spread to other populations as the graduates from music therapy programs increased. Not only were they working in psychiatric institutions, but also with people with developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, and sensory impairments.

In 1971, the American Association for Music Therapy (AAMT) began with similar goals as NAMT, but with different educational and clinical training philosophies. The AAMT scholarly journal was called Music Therapy and was published from 1981 – 1993. They offered the credentials Certified Music Therapist (CMT) and Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT), which indicated advanced levels of training and practice.

NAMT published a second periodical, Music Therapy Perspectives, beginning in 1980, which focuses on music therapy techniques with specific populations. In 1983, the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) was established as an independent certifying body that increases the protection of the public by assuring the competency of music therapists. Successful completion of the CBMT exam and maintenance of the continuing education standards grants the credential of Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC).

In 1998, the two organizations unified into the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), and combined the education and clinical training components from both organizations. CBMT now grants the only music therapy credential and the profession has a unified voice in the United States.

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