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The Power of Music Therapy

Music has the power to transform, and this can be especially true for people with special needs. 

Catilin Krater, board certified music therapist at Riley Hospital for Children and Indiana University Health, and Dorothy Benz-Buchanan, licensed Kindermusik educator, explain the benefits of music therapy, as well as suggestions for finding a great music therapist.

What is music therapy? 

Krater: Music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the therapist provides treatment that includes creating, singing, moving and listening to music. The clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words.

I see music therapy as an important auxiliary to medical intervention. We often do not see music replacing medication or other forms of therapies, but enhancing their effectiveness. I often co-treat with other disciplines in the hospital such as physical therapy and speech therapy.

How have you seen the benefits of music therapy first-hand? 

Benz-Buchanan: As a former Kindermusik educator of 10 years, I have had various experiences with special needs children. When you use specific music for special needs children, it offers an effective way to develop verbal skills. In fact, there are many resources that supply custom music, which is designed to isolate speech sounds, or deliver memory and learning aids. Being able to effectively communicate and interact with others through music also gives children a healthy, positive outlet for their feelings.

Percussive instruments are particularly effective in changing the lives of special needs students. When a student uses an instrument like a maraca, there is an instant response to an action. This helps students who have sight limitations, allowing them to explore physical perceptions and creative experimentation, while simultaneously strengthening their coordination.

By offering a multi-sensory experience, making music engages almost every neurological system. When you create any type of music, even if it’s simply banging a drum to a specific rhythm, both sides of your brain are stimulated. The tactile learning system is involved by touching the instrument and by feeling the sound impulse vibrations that are created.

What are your suggestions for parents who are searching for a music therapist? 

Krater: Ultimately, the relationship your child has with the therapist is very important, and often key to engagement in therapy, so don’t be afraid to meet with a few to find the right fit. If you are looking for a music therapist, you can contact the Association for Indiana Music Therapists on their website. This way you will know you are getting access to a board-certified music therapist.

Benz-Buchanan: It is important that the music therapist is compassionate, patient, creative and a good problem solver. Considering that children with special needs experience the world in different ways, it is important the music therapist you choose has patience in waiting and understanding how your child acts or reacts in certain situations.

It’s essential that the music therapist you choose can “think on their feet” and come up with a solution through a musical activity or therapeutic intervention. Ask your therapist in an interview, “What is the most challenging client you have worked with and how did you problem-solve to come up with a solution?”


A great resource when searching for a qualified music therapist in your area is musictherapy.org/about/find.

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