top of page

Music Therapy in School Systems

Engaging in therapeutic music-making has helped neurodivergent individuals meet multiple goals in the United States as early as the 1800’s. Although music has been created by humans for hundreds of years, literature on the benefits of music in assisting differently-abled individuals during the 19th century led to the inclusion of music within the curriculums of various schools, such as the Perkins School for the Blind. Although music education itself was not a new concept, the use of music to assist visually-impaired individuals led to a wave of other institutions including some form of music therapy; these institutions included the New York School for the Blind and the American Asylum for the Deaf during the 1840’s (Davis & Gfeller, 2008).

Concurrently, the use of music in healing led to applications of music therapy within hospitals; this led to many positive examples of music therapy within hospitals and mental health facilities. These applications culminated in a formal development of music therapy during World War II when the United States needed a new, innovative form of therapy to meet the needs of soldiers coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses that may have been exacerbated during this time. In 1947, the Music Teachers National Association met to define the tenets of music therapy, realizing the need for good research, competencies, and a standardized curriculum to produce well-informed music therapists for the next generation. That meeting started the founding of the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT), which is still around today as the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

Although the primary community served by music therapists in the 40’s-50’s were those with PTSD, the needs shifted to neurodivergent individuals in the school system. Music therapists focused on music experiences that aided in reinforcing, organizing, and focusing attention to improve the learning process. In the 1960’s, the music therapy world saw a large increase in research around this community, highlighting the interest in applying music to this environment. The United States also saw an increase of universities offering music therapy, thus resulting in music therapy services being offered more broadly across the United States.

With a significant shift from the medical model to an educational model in the 1970’s, music therapy was further normalized in school settings. Music therapy treatment was focusing more on improving sustained attention, increasing desired behaviors, and teaching vocational skills. At this point in history, music therapy was recognized as a therapeutic service that helped neurodivergent individuals thrive in an educational environment that was created with primarily neurotypical individuals in mind.

As more research was conducted throughout the 80’s and 90’s, music therapy became widely recognized as a viable service in an educational setting. “AMTA mounted an intensive advocacy effort that resulted in a letter from the Director of the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs stating that while music therapy is not directly named as a related service, it may indeed be considered as such under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)” (Simpson, 2002). Although the effects of this advocacy have yet to be seen concretely, it is known that music therapy can be recommended through a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Furthermore, in a 2018 Workforce Analysis conducted by AMTA, 13% of music therapists reported working with Children’s Facilities/Schools (AMTA, 2018). This number reflects the current need of music therapists within educational settings, particularly those of special education. Current research supports the many benefits of music therapy in helping individuals within special education (some of which can be found on our previous blog post:

As such, it should come to no surprise that music therapy is a crucial service recognized and protected by the state of FL. Any child with an IEP can request music therapy services as a “related service,” as defined by section 300.34(a) of Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations (34 CFR 300.34(a)). If this is something that you are interested in, please reach out to The House of Music Therapy to discuss your options and schedule an assessment for your child!


American Music Therapy Association. A descriptive, statistical profile of the 2018 AMTA membership and music therapy community.

Davis, W.B., & Gfeller, K.E. (2008). Music therapy: Historical perspective. In Davis, W.B., Gfeller, K.E., & Thaut, M.H. (Eds.), An introduction to music therapy theory and practice (pp. 17-39). American Music Therapy Association.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 34 C.F.R. §300.34 (2017).

53 views0 comments


bottom of page