What is the Difference Between Music Therapy and Music Medicine?

Interested in What Music Therapy is Exactly? Find out Here, and Learn How it Differs from Music Medicine.

While music therapy and music medicine have many similarities and are clearly rooted in many of the same practices, they do have distinctly different goals and outcomes.  It is safe to say that at this point in time music therapy is much more widely heard of than music medicine. Music medicine is still in its early stages of growth, even more so than music therapy, although it has just come to the foreground recently. 

Here are the things about music therapy and music medicine that you can find information on in this blog post

  • What is music therapy?
  • What is music medicine?
  • How do music therapy and music medicine overlap and diverge in practice?
A hand stirring a padded mallet around a gold bowl.
Music can do so much for us to help calm ourselves during times of stress or anxiety

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is much like any other form of therapy. It aims to help a patient work through whatever psychological or emotional struggles they may be encountering at any given time. Not only is the aim to express those complex emotions, but to then communicate and resolve them if they can be resolved.

Music therapy essentially engages with all these aspects of therapy that you would encounter in a typical therapy session, but does in a way that is assisted by music. The addition of music into therapy often helps people feel more at ease when speaking to a therapist, which can be (somewhat counterintuitively) an anxiety inducing experience. Engaging with music in therapy also helps people to engage physically, due to the introduction of instrumental play and movement. This can drastically improve someone’s state of mind if they are struggling to express certain emotions. 

Music therapy can include many different forms of engaging with music. A music therapist may work with their patient by listening to music together, moving to music, playing music, and/or creating their own original music.

A woman with headphones on looking at her phone
Engaging with music that has strong rhythms can help us become more physically active, which is a valuable tool in both music medicine and music therapy!

What is Music Medicine?

Music medicine focuses on the more clinical benefits that music can have on patients. It also has more to do with research. At this point, it is far less interactive than music therapy, primarily focusing on monitoring how music affects patients who have neurological disabilities. In these areas of research within music medicine, music has been found to have incredible effects on patients. 

Specifically in patients with Parkinson's disease, music can helps ease tremors. The physicality that music inspires is one of the most positive impacts on these patients. In patients who are recovering from strokes, music is an incredibly useful resource because of how our brains process music. The portion of our brain that processes music overlaps with where we process language. This makes music a great resource for patients recovering from strokes.    

Overall music medicine can be distinguished from music therapy primarily in that people who are administering “music medicine” have not acquired certification as music therapists. Music medicine is a broader term that encompasses situations where a doctor may be utilizing music in caring for their patient even if they are not an accredited music therapist. 

A person dressed in all black playing the guitar next to a plant.
The way that our brain responds when we play music engages the parts of our brain responsible for controlling our fine motor skills and the ones responsible for our emotional and cognitive responses.

How do Music Therapy and Music Medicine Overlap and Diverge in Practice?

While there are many similarities between music therapy and music medicine, they do differ in some distinct ways. Music therapy offers more comprehensive and engaging care for patients than music medicine does. Music medicine for the most part is a term used to describe when a medical practitioner uses music in the course of treating their patient.

Music therapy, in contrast to this, uses music in a more fully rounded way. Music therapy does not simply mean ‘listening to music.’ Music therapy involves writing music, playing music, and listening to a mixture of live or recorded music. This is a much more comprehensive method of utilizing music in the treatment of patients and helps them in expressing their emotions. Rather than just listening to music, which anyone can do by themselves, engaging in a music therapy session means combining the positive effects of a therapy session and of listening to and engaging with music. 

All in all, music therapy and music medicine have an incredible amount to offer to patients struggling with a multitude of mental or physical ailments. They even do so in many of the same or similar ways. One main difference, however, that is important to understand, is that music medicine does not offer a rounded response to whatever you may be struggling with, as compared to music therapy. Music therapists have so many tools and resources to help you. Music is deeply involved in how they work with you during a session. Those who practice music medicine, however, are not able to address conditions in the same way as a music therapist can. They have not been certified or taken the same courses in music and psychology. If you are interested in music therapy services, contact Incadence for more information.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 20, 2021.

Lily Taggart
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