Teen playing his guitar for online music therapy

Ask a Clinician: Music Therapy and High Acuity Mental Healthcare

April 19, 2023

5 min.

Music therapy is a type of therapy that helps individuals communicate more effectively, understand themselves better, and explore their emotions. For this article, Charlie Health spoke with Elizabeth Mason-Brown, a board certified music therapist, to learn more about the role of music therapy.

By: Dr. Rasna Kaur Neelam

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process


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Table of Contents

Before we begin, can you please introduce yourself to our Charlie Health readers? 

Thank you for this opportunity. My name is Elizabeth Mason-Brown, and I am a board-certified music therapist. I am also the Director of Creative Arts Programming at Charlie Health. I studied at Illinois State and North Park University and received a master’s in music with a music therapy concentration.

I enjoy music therapy because music has been a great form of self-expression and “release” for me since I was a young child. 

Music involves several key elements – like the tempo, lyrics, and instruments –  that all offer different benefits. Music can be entertaining, relaxing, a way to verbally and non-verbally communicate, a way to access emotional identity, and so much more! Music is a healing gift, and I am grateful that I can offer music in a therapeutic way. 

All music therapists are musicians, as it is required that we are functional or proficient in voice, piano, guitar, and percussion. Voice has always been my primary instrument, but I feel comfortable using the guitar as my main source of accompaniment.

How would you define music therapy?  

Music therapy is an evidenced-based profession that uses music-based interventions to help individuals in treatment meet their goals. Music therapy is a creative therapeutic platform that allows the client to understand themselves in an alternative way.

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What does music therapy look like in action?

Music therapy presents itself differently depending on the population, treatment goals, and environment. Therapists meet with clients individually or in groups. 

Session times also vary by keeping certain variables in mind, like attention span, age, diagnosis, etc. This information is tested during the assessment and treatment process. 

So what does music therapy “look like?” A music therapist working with younger children in a school setting, for example, may have music playing throughout the entire session as a way to help the child work on academic goals. In this session, little to no verbal processing may take place. 

In a hospital setting, depending on the treatment goals, the music therapist and client might work on pain management and use music as a way to promote relaxation.

Instruments are used in sessions as well as music recordings. Studies have shown that using client-preferred music is more effective, so we assess each client’s musical preferences before choosing which music to use in sessions.

At Charlie Health, we work with adolescents and young adults struggling with high acuity mental health issues. The music interventions used at Charlie Health that help in this space are songwriting, lyric analysis, active music listening, and music making. 

Music therapists usually work with an interdisciplinary team and work well with other therapies. We can also have our own private practices and caseloads as we have training in creating and implementing treatment plans and assessments. 

Teen participating in music therapy online by listening to a song

What are the goals of music therapy? 

The goals depend on the client’s needs. After doing a clinical and music therapy assessment, the music therapist and client determine which therapy goals they are going to include in the treatment plan.

Is music therapy best suited for certain mental health concerns or disorders? Is music therapy best suited for certain individuals? 

Music therapy can work for all populations!

The client’s preferences are a major part of determining if music therapy is an appropriate treatment. If a client has a negative reaction to all music, music therapy would not be suitable.

Do I need to be a musician to benefit from music therapy? Alternatively, if I am a musician, would I get extra benefits from this type of therapy?

You do not have to be a musician to benefit from music therapy. That is the best part about it! The music therapist assesses the client’s musical ability and uses that information when creating and determining interventions. As therapists, we always want to meet the client where they are cognitively, physically, and emotionally. 

If a client is a musician, depending on the individual, it could be extra beneficial or the same experience as a person who has little musical knowledge. The connection to the music therapy interventions will determine the benefit. 

Is there research into the benefits of music therapy? Is this better than standard therapy or medication?

Since music therapy is an evidenced-based practice, there is research that shows the benefits of using it in treatment with all populations. The Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives are our primary sources for research, but music therapy is seen in other journals and articles, too. This information can be located on the American Music Therapy Association website, where you can also find a board-certified music therapist in your community and more! 

I wouldn’t say that music therapy is better than other standard practices, but there are advantages when using music therapy interventions, even outside of treatment. Music is accessible, compared to medication and other standard practices, due to the free resources we have, like music streaming services and websites. Sometimes all you need is something to write with and paper to use music as a coping skill. 

Do you need more support with
your mental health?

Charlie Health can help.

Are there any health improvements that you see in clients who participate in music therapy? 

Improvements I have seen in Charlie Health clients are finding their voice by communicating through music, emotional identification, cohesion and connection to other group members and therapists, authenticity, mood modulation, and so much more! 

Depending on the population, music interventions have improved physical ability, communication skills, cognitive abilities, and emotional regulation. 

How do I find a music therapist? 

You can find a board-certified music therapist by using the American Music Therapy Association website, where therapists share their information and location. You can also find a music therapist on the Board Certification for Music Therapists website. They can be found on Indeed, Facebook, Google, and other social media platforms. 

Music therapists work in psychiatric hospitals, schools, nursing homes, physical rehabilitation facilities, outpatient facilities, at the client’s home, hospice programs, community mental health centers, substance and alcohol programs, and so much more!

Music therapy is an incredibly helpful way to assist individuals in processing difficult emotions, and Charlie Health utilizes this treatment modality. Whether you're struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, music therapy can be a powerful tool to support your healing journey. If you're interested in learning more about music therapy and how it can benefit your mental health and well-being, Charlie Health can provide assistance.

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