A History Lesson


What is the history of music therapy? I’ve always been a bit of a history buff myself in general life, so of course I have often wondered upon the history of my profession. So for my good readers here I decided to do a little bit of research and dug up some good material for you to read about famous individuals who have either employed or benefited from some sort of musical therapy.

Let’s go back. Way back to the bible days. Well, yeah, 3000 years ago if you know your old bible stories you are aware of the stories of David the future king of Israel, and Saul the first king of Israel. Well, Saul to put it simply had some problems. He would go into fits that were a mixture of fear, anxiety and rage out of nowhere. These mental episodes were so debilitating they would paralyze Saul and make him unable to even govern during crucial points in Israel’s history.

David known for his great music ability with the Harp and other instruments, as well as being a songwriter (David wrote Psalms), was for all intents and purposes Saul’s music therapist. When Saul had a mental breakdown he would immediately call upon David. There were instances of Israel under attack and Saul having a nervous breakdown unable to lead, and then his advisers would summon David and he would soothe Saul with his Harp and he would snap out of it. Saul would tell David that he wouldn’t have been able to make it without his therapeutic songs.

In ancient times music therapy was actually pretty common. In ancient Hindu mythology there are many instances of music therapy being employed in India. There are countless Vedic texts where music therapy is shown to be affective in treating illness. Music therapy was regularly practiced in India all the way until present times.

Another great Music Therapist from the ancient world was an Iranian by the name of Al-Farabi. Al-Farabi wrote an extensive documentation of the effects of music upon patients. He wrote of the therapeutic effects music can have upon the soul and how well his clients responded to his music therapy. He wrote this great work in the early 900’s. It was another great music therapy clinic that existed in the world just 1100 some years ago.

It seems the Mid-East and East had been using the practice of music therapy for a long time, what about the western world? Well it took the west a little while to catch up. It is said that modern music therapy really began in the west after World War 1 and World War 2. Especially the United Kingdom, after world war two regularly sent regiments of musicians to play for wounded and shell shocked troops; this is where the modern practice began.

t was an early success with only one hitch; it soon became clear to physicians that the musicians needed to be able to take some sort of course to guide them into more of a professional clinical field. So it was with those post war gestures that the college major of Music Therapy was born. The first musicians to come around the VA hospitals after wars were not trained, just musicians improvising, but now it is a rigorous program of board certified music therapists. The field has really come a long way.

Here in the United States the American Music Therapy Association was founded in 1998 merging with NAMT (National Association for Music Therapy). And that brings the history of music therapy nicely up to my backyard so to speak. I begin my music therapy profession in 2002; just after this big merger. What did that mean for me? It meant that I was lucky to begin fresh in a great blend of organizations.

So for something that begin thousands of years ago with ancient David plucking a harp for suffering Saul and with Indian and Persian music therapists working wonders, we have really come a long way to get to the present. And I am proud of our great history and what we can still accomplish today to help others to feel better. It is really a blessing to help and love other people through this wonderful music.