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Music therapy is the systematic use of music by trained professionals to facilitate the healing and positive personal growth of people with identified developmental, emotional, intellectual, physical, mental, social or spiritual needs.

Press Release: What is Music Therapy?

With the recent interest in music therapy, we, as Singaporean professional music therapists, would like to highlight several issues to raise the public’s awareness of “Music Therapy (MT)”.
            We know “music” and “therapy” are universal. However, we want to make a case for “Music Therapy” as a specialty, professional field. “Music Therapy” is an established healthcare profession with its own Code of Ethics, and Standards for Professional Practice, Education and Training. MT is an international discipline with a growing empirical and qualitative research base. 

The process of “Music Therapy” involves a dynamic relationship between the client, music and the therapist. The Music Therapist is trained to assess strengths and needs/challenges, develop treatment goals, and implement specific music interventions and strategies to address the client’s needs. When the goals are met, therapy is terminated. “Music Therapy” is different from music education. The learning of musical concepts or theory is not emphasized in MT, except to achieve other psychosocial or cognitive goals. No previous musical skills or training are needed to benefit from Music Therapy.

The effects and benefits of Music Therapy are well documented in research with special educational, and mental health (depression, addictions, schizophrenia) programming, as well as with gerontological (patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s), forensics, physical rehabilitation (stroke, Parkinson’s), as well as medical (oncology, labor and delivery, paediatrics, hospice) populations. Music Therapy has also enhanced or complemented preventative and wellness programming (stress/anxiety reduction, pain management). Participation in music therapy programmes has been linked to reported higher quality of life in patients with terminal illnesses as AIDS and cancer, decreased side-effects in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, increased weight gain in premature babies in NICU, increased social interaction skills with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), increased motivation and stamina for exercising in individuals with gross motor deficits, and increased vocalization in non-verbal children with global developmental delay and ASD. Music Therapy has also been used as a diagnostic tool in the evaluation of individuals, group and family dynamics.

“Music Therapy” needs to be distinguished from so called “prescribed music” or music medicine. Music CDs that “promise” relaxation, better digestion, or spiritual renewal may be marketed as Music Therapy. However, “Music Therapy” requires the active participation of the client in a therapeutic process using music, as facilitated and guided by a trained music therapist. In addition, during the course of “Music Therapy”, the client’s preferred music is used, often re-created “live.” Moreover, prescribed music may not be tailored to the client’s needs and thus its efficacy may be questionable.

Music Therapy also needs to be distinguished from sound or vibrational therapy. Sound therapy’s premise is based upon the curative power of specific sounds, combinations of sounds, and vibrations. The sound therapy client is a passive recipient (listener) of the therapy, rather than an active participant in a process. The training of sound therapists may also not be as extensive as a music therapist’s. Similarly, other professionals trained as psychologists, counselors, occupational therapists and speech-language therapists may use music in their interventions, but such is not appropriately “Music Therapy.” In these cases, music is not the primary tool but serves as an adjunct to their various techniques, etc. The use of music in therapy does not constitute “Music Therapy.”

            While music volunteerism reaps many benefits, it is not “Music Therapy.” Volunteers may not be aware of, nor recognize, or be sensitive to, the implications of various uses of music, or potential “harm” from negative perceptions/associations that may arise from certain uses of music in various contexts. Nor may volunteers be prepared to follow the process, or address psychological, physical, emotional, mental/cognitive, spiritual issues that may arise, all the way through. A general rule should suffice: as long as the therapist does not have Music Therapy-related credentials, s/he should not self-identify as a “Music Therapist.”

Music Therapists are trained, credentialed professionals. Training is offered at tertiary levels. In the United Kingdom (U.K.), Music Therapists hold the SRMT credential. Previously, postgraduate diplomas in Music Therapy were earned, but since last year, most universities have upgraded to the Master’s level. In the United States (U.S.), Music Therapists earn Bachelor, Master, and PhD degrees. Moreover, after completing an accredited academic programme, a six-month clinical internship and upon passing the certification exam, the Music Therapist is certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT: ). Thereafter, to maintain one’s credential as a Board Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC), the Music Therapist is required to earn continued education credits for re-certification in five-year cycles.

            Presently, the network of local Music Therapists is small. We are currently serving children and youth who are at-risk, with special needs, and individuals with ASD, as well as adults in wellness programming and seniors with dementia.   Several Music Therapists also provide psychosocial or interventions at a local hospice and hospitals.  There are also a handful of Singaporean Music Therapy students and professionals training or working in Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S. 

            We recommend members of the public to request for the service provider’s credentials and training, so as to assure that the service that they receive comes from qualified practitioners. More information about Music Therapy, its research base,
education and training requirements, and clinical standards of practice may be found from the American Music Therapy Association’s website at Other links are  (U.K.), and (Australia).


Chen, H.L., MME, MT-BC (U.S.)

Chong, C., PG Dip MT, Registered Member of APMT (U.K.)

Kwan, M., MMT, LCAT, MT-BC, AMTA professional member (

Loi, W.M., PG Dip MT (ARU/Cambridge), Registered Member of APMT (U.K.)

Ng, W.F., MMT, MT-BC, AMTA professional member (U.S.)

Ruyters-Lim, A., BA (Hons), Dip. M.Th (GSMD/York) (U.K.)

Tan, P., PhD, MT-BC, AMTA professional member (U.S.)


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