How Music Therapy Careers are Evolving
by Alex Cosper (9/1/14)

Music therapy has been a practice since the 1940s but only in recent years has it gained significant press coverage and growing attention as a career choice. The combination of the medical industry's growing interest and expansion of educational programs in this field have finally put music therapy on the national radar like no other time in history. This fall Belmont University in Tennessee is introducing a degree in music therapy, making it the first university to do so in the state that is home to many profesional country musicians.

The launch of this undergraduate program will likely lead to music therapy licensure in the state and then throughout the nation. While other schools around the country have emphasized classical music for music therapy programs, Belmost is focused on both classical and contemporary music. Educators at the university believe this program can attract musicians from around the nation.

The first music therapy program began in 1944 at Michigan State University. Research has since shown that music is helpful in treating patients of many illnesses because it affects emotion, which is related to quality of life. Music has the power to help patients manage stress, which affects physical aspects of health including blood pressure, heart rate and brainwaves. Music can also help patients regain memory. These findings are documented by several medical professionals including Dr. Monica Rocco of the Marian Regional Medical Center Chapel. The earliest known documentation on music therapy was from the late 18th century.

Some of the many illnesses that have been treated with music therapy include cancer and Alzheimer's. While music may not cure these health problems, it can be used to reduce pain and raise the emotional level of patients. Since music can also increase creavity, it is helpful in making the brain more active, which is a key to treating depression and anxiety. Music can distract from pain, so it reduces the need for potentially dangerous and expensive painkiller medicine.

Evidence that the medical industry is taking music therapy seriously is the recent $150,000 donation to Sutter Children's Center in Sacramento by former San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young, according to the Sacramento Bee. His wife Barb has been studying music therapy since the 1990s. The donation will go toward funding Sophie's Place, which is part of the Children's Center across from Sutter General Hospital. The 1000 square foot facility that will include a music therapy room is set to open in May 2015.

Steve Young, who retired from the 49ers in 1999, now runs the Forever Young Foundation, which helps children with physical and emotional issues. Sophie's Place is named after Sophie Barton, a singer-songwriter who was the daughter of a friend. She died in 2010 at the age of 17. Steve and Barb decided to establish Sophie's Place at Sutter in her memory.

The music therapy industry received another boost in August 2014 when the first global award of its kind was given to a Florida State University professor, Jayne Standley, to recognize her research in the field. The award was issued by the World Federation of Music Therapy in Vienna. Standley has been researching music therapy for over two decades. The award was specifically for her research on how music can help premature infants, in which she invented a device called the Pacifier Activated Lullaby (PAL). Infants hear a soft melody as a reward when they suck on the PAL device. This process has proven to help feed and sooth babies, accelerating their discharges from the hospital. Standley is the director of the FSU Music Therapy program.

In addition to music being taken more seriously by the medical community, it is also gaining attention as a way in improve reading and writing skills in children. Research shows that learning a musical instrument helps children learn language skills and social skills at a faster pace.

see also Music Healing and Therapy

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