Music therapy remains an uncertified medical practice in Virginia

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RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) — Patients who rely on music therapy to overcome trauma may remain susceptible to receiving unqualified care after a House subcommittee watered down a bill by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel.

Vogel, a Republican from Fauquier County, introduced Senate Bill 1547 in early January. It unanimously passed the Senate last week and was considered Tuesday by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions.

Vogel’s bill aims to create one year of registration through the Board of Medicine for music therapists to ensure the practice is only administered by trained professionals.

Music therapy as medical practice is recognized in nine states through a board of certification. Currently, there are 227 board-certified music therapists in Virginia, but the service can be provided without qualifications.

Becky Watson, owner of Music for Wellness in Norfolk, was in the Navy for 25 years and now treats a variety of patients, including veterans, at her music therapy clinic. Watson said allowing untrained musical therapy practices can have harmful effects on patients.

“Music is made up of many elements ... There are many benefits of using rhythm as a therapeutic intervention,” Watson said. “Music also has the potential to be harmful by causing extreme anger, irritability, physical violence and depression as the music selected can be connected or a reminder of a traumatic effect.”

Del. Robert Orrock Sr., R-Caroline, is a member of the subcommittee who opposed SB 1547 as originally written. He said the Virginia Department of Health Professions needed time to develop a certification process for the industry.

The subcommittee approved a substitute bill that directs the department to “evaluate whether music therapists and the practice of music therapy should be regulated and the degree of regulation to be imposed.” The board would have to report its findings to legislators by Nov. 1.

The subcommittee adopted the substitute bill on a 6-0 vote. It now will go to the full committee and, if approved, to the entire House of Delegates.

“The department is going to come back with a recommendation which may be adverse or it may be requiring more than just a registration, true certification. The intent is not to do harm to the underlying premise that the profession has merit in the service,” Orrock said.

Virginia native Forrest Allen suffered brain injuries from a snowboarding accident when he was 18. Doctors predicted he could remain in an indefinite coma with major physical and cognitive trauma. Within three years, Allen had made large strides in his recovery through music therapy, which was the subject of a story in The Washington Post and the documentary “Music Got Me Here.”

Vogel said state oversight is important in ensuring that music therapists are qualified to help people.

“Music therapy has a clinical setting, a school setting, a rehabilitation setting — sometimes life-changing, life-saving impacts,” she said.