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It’s time to take music therapy seriously

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Music therapy is a growing profession, defined by the American Music Therapy Association as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions” to help treat numerous conditions.

Music therapy can provide an extremely effective treatment that not only helps treat a patient’s medical condition, but also addresses the social aspect of recovery that is often overlooked by traditional medical treatment. Music therapy is an effective form of treatment for many populations, such as Alzheimer’s patients and special needs children.

Throughout high school, I have researched music therapy and have been able to assist in music therapy sessions, all of which have helped me gain the knowledge I needed to complete a senior project on the need for licensure of music therapy in North Carolina. I have seen music therapists work with high-functioning senior citizens as well as dementia patients, and witness the joy that lights up their faces when the music starts.

Volunteering with the Wake Forest Abilities Choir has helped me work with special needs children through music and see firsthand how music participation benefits them. I recently observed a music therapist working with special needs middle and high school students in the Chapel Hill school system, and both activities have helped me understand that as well as helping patients treat non-musical goals such as gait or speech, music therapy also helps them receive social stimulation and allows them to participate in musical activities.

Many students with differing conditions may not be able to participate in traditional school music activities, and music therapy allows for an artistic outlet that helps them express themselves, while also treating medical aspects of their condition.

While music therapy is gaining more ground and recognition in the medical field, it is not licensed in most states. The lack of state licensure for the profession makes it extremely difficult for patients to obtain or afford these services, as many health insurance companies do not recognize or pay for services. It also makes it difficult to pursue a music therapy career, and can put patients at risk from those who claim to be “music therapists” without the necessary credentials.

Furthermore, many school systems (especially rural), are not able to afford a music therapist for students with special needs or disabilities, putting a deserving population of students at a disadvantage.

Board-certified music therapists have to obtain a Bachelor’s degree from an AMTA-approved university, complete a six month supervised internship, and pass the rigorous national board certification exam.

Currently, state licensure is required for physical therapists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists, and teachers — but for a career as complex, comprehensive and diverse as music therapy, it is not being offered.

Some of this hesitation is likely due to competing priorities for state budget funds. Some of this is due to legislator’s biases, and the lack of understanding and knowledge that the general population has about the profession. Although the reasons for the lack of state licensure are multi-faceted, they certainly do not justify depriving patients the chance at improving their quality of life and symptoms. Our state is known as a leader in health care, and can show compassion and innovation by establishing licensure for music therapy now.

One thing we can do to help is educate ourselves about music therapy, advocate for the profession, and become involved in the NC Music Therapy Task Force’s efforts to lobby with state legislators. The task force is a group made of music therapists from around the state, and is led by Triangle resident and music therapist Martine Bullard.

The task force is planning lobbying efforts to speak with important legislators about passing necessary state licensing bills this summer. The task force needs as much support as possible, and appreciates the efforts of those who can become involved.

To learn more about advocacy, visit,, and Involvement with the task force may help your community members or loved ones receive critical music therapy services when the need arises.

Jessica Lang is a senior at Franklin Academy. She is researching the effects of music therapy and the lack of state licensure of the profession for her senior project. She is also an avid singer-songwriter, acoustic guitarist and mandolinist and is planning on pursuing a career in music. Visit to see her music.