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The History of Veterans and Music Therapy

In our earlier blog post titled “Music Therapy in School Systems,” we briefly discussed the beginnings of music therapy and its development within the school system. In honor of Veterans Day, The House of Music Therapy would like to analyze the relationship between veterans and music therapy, particularly with the integral role of veterans at the outset of music therapy in the United States.

Music has been used to alleviate distress throughout the ages, but the defining shift that helped create music therapy came at the end of World War II. Initially, musicians were employed as hospitals as a means of providing environmental comfort and recreation for soldiers at select Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals; although there was no discussion at this time about the long-term implications of war, it was understood that veterans needed a tangible experience of “normalcy” during their recovery. This compounded with a need for more active therapeutic experiences as the increased number of veterans were displaying an array of physical, cognitive, and emotional injuries throughout their hospitalizations. Early examples of physical and occupational therapies were implemented at this time, however, medical staff members and officials alike recognized the uniqueness of music as a therapeutic experience that provided veterans with an opportunity to combine both environmental comfort and active physical recovery.

Given these needs, the U.S. War Department issued Technical Bulletin 187 in 1945 detailing a program on the use of music for reconditioning among service members convalescing in Army hospitals. This program demonstrated how music could be incorporated in multiple therapeutic services including recreation, education, occupational therapy, and physical reconditioning” (Rorke, 1986; U.S. War Department, 1945). The issuance of this program enabled 122 VA hospitals to expand available therapeutic services and provided 7,538 veterans with music services through varying referral sources; given its success and popularity, it became evident that there was a large need for more therapeutically-influenced music experiences among veterans.

As budding music therapists emerged, more applications were made outside of the veteran community in education, medicine, and psychiatric facilities. Although there were earlier examples of music therapy in these institutions, it was the professional development within VA hospitals that led to an official recognition of the therapeutic benefits of music and music therapy began to expand by meeting similar goals in different communities. The related financial backing in both practice and research led early music therapy pioneers in creating the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) in 1950 and the American Association for Music Therapy (AAMT) in 1971, both of which later joined to form the current American Music Therapy Association (AMTA)!

Currently, there is still a strong relationship between veterans and music therapy. With the advancement of neurological research in trauma, music therapy continues to serve the veterans by meeting cognitive and emotional goals. Additionally, many veteran facilities outside of VA hospitals also incorporate music therapy programs to meet social and physical needs that may not be met otherwise; some examples can be seen here: and

The relationship between veterans and music therapy cannot be understated, both in the development of music therapy and its continuation today. Without veterans, music therapy as we know it would not exist; with that said, however, you do not have to be a music therapist to help the veteran community. Please check out the links below to discover ways that you can volunteer or donate to our veterans, and please remember to celebrate Veterans Day by thanking all of those who have served!

“It's about how we treat our veterans every single day of the year. It’s about making sure they have the care they need and the benefits that they’ve earned when they come home. It’s about serving all of you as well as you’ve served the United States of America.”

-Barack Obama


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