Sweet music to their ears

On May 1 of last year, Georgia became the third state in the nation to require licensure for music therapists. The minimum credential to practice music therapy in the state is the MT-BC (music therapist board certified).

The new law is considered a win by people who work in the growing profession and anyone seeking music therapy.

“As the demand for alternative therapies continues to grow, it is crucial to strengthen the law, which governs how music therapists practice in Georgia, said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who sponsored the bill. “With the passing of SB 414, patients can rest assured knowing their music therapist is operating under the highest level of professionalism.”

Music therapy — in the broadest sense — has a long history.

“Using music therapeutically goes back to the beginning of time, really; every culture has examples of it. We find David playing his harp to soothe King Saul in the Bible,” said Jamie George, owner/director of the George Center for Music Therapy in Roswell. “But the clinical history of the profession only goes back about 60 years.”

After World War II, musicians played for veterans in hospitals and nurses noticed that patients had higher oxygen levels and lower blood pressure afterward.

“Since then, research on music therapy has been exploding,” said George, MM, MT-BC, NICU-MT. “For musicians to play in hospitals is a wonderful thing and a huge benefit to patients, but that’s not the same thing as music therapy.”

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music intervention to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program, according to the American Music Therapy Association. When prescribed by a physician and practiced in a goal-oriented treatment plan, music therapy is reimbursable by insurance plans and Medicare. In Georgia there are waivers that allow music therapy for Medicaid patients.

Music therapists work at hospitals, schools, nursing homes, clinics and in private practice.

Music therapy has been shown to improve the physical, mental and emotional well-being of patients of all ages, from neonates to octogenarians with dementia, says the AMTA. It has helped premature infants and their parents shorten stays in the neonatal intensive care unit and helped improve the motor, cognitive, verbal and social function of patients who have neurological disorders or brain injuries.

Music therapy is a noninvasive intervention for patients who have chronic illness or pain, and for those with developmental disabilities, including the autism spectrum. It has proved to be effective with recovering drug addicts and hospice patients.

Tuned in to therapy

George first heard about music therapy when she was a senior music theater performance major at Western Michigan University. She also noticed that when she played the piano for her grandfather — who had Alzheimer’s disease — he was “more relaxed and in the moment.”

After working as a performer for several years—she sings and plays piano, guitar, violin and drums — George enrolled in the University of Georgia’s master’s degree program in music therapy in 2006. A year later, she completed an internship and 1,200 hours of practice to become a board-certified music therapist through the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

“We run into issues when people who aren’t properly trained or licensed practice music therapeutically. It can actually be harmful to patients and clients. Anyone who is going to work with babies in a neonatal intensive care unit, for instance, requires some medical training,” said George, who holds a special certification to work in the NICU.

The American Music Therapy Association has been urging states to pass legislation making the MT-BC the minimum credential for practicing music therapy. George is proud that Georgia is a pioneer in the movement.

“There are only 120 music therapists in Georgia, so there were no paid lobbyists for this bill. It passed because of a huge grassroots effort,” she said. “Legislators joked that we wouldn’t let them alone.”

George was part of a six-member task force that attended the 2012 Georgia Assembly session every day to educate lawmakers about music therapy and the need for licensure. “It was exciting. I love advocating for my profession,” she said.

George will serve on the first Georgia Music Therapy Advisory Group, along with two other music therapists: Jennifer Puckett of Therabeat and Elizabeth Hampshire of Music Therapy Services of Greater Atlanta. The other board members are pharmacist Steve Wilson, health care member; David Ratley, consumer member; and Jim Cleghorn, executive director. The group will organize the application process, set fees and renewal costs for licensure, and address noncompliance issues.

“It’s a very exciting time to be in this profession,” George said. “I get to treat people and make music every day. The best part is getting to see people who didn’t even know that music therapy was an option use it and get results.”

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