What most people assume it is: Basically a psychiatrist session, with some kind of music involved.
What it is: According to the American Musical Therapy Association, Music Therapy is the use of music as a therapeutic “intervention,” or influence to help “assess the emotional, cognitive and social needs of an individual. Particularly used to help treat patients with Alzheimer's disease, brain damage or a form of mental disability or illness.”
What happens: Just with any other form of therapy, music therapy is formed based on each individual’s needs. After reviewing a patient, a certified music therapist is able to put together a specialized treatment, involving interacting with music either by creating, singing or listening to music. The skills found through this involvement can then be applied to other areas of a person’s needs, whether it be a coping mechanism for emotional situations, improvement in communication or improvement of focus and motivation on given tasks.
Why it works: Humans do have a natural response to music, whether it be a physical response to rhythm or a psychological response to a melody. So it’s only natural that music could improve cognitive functioning in those with mental or physical illness. Music also helps improve memory, as it can be used as a type of mnemonic device to tag memories, which is the reason for the story that “If you play classical music for babies it will make them smarter.” Finally, music has a system of organization to it, which very much fits the structure of our brain.