This fall, a new bachelor’s degree program launched at Westfield State University that harnesses the power of music to aid in healing. Westfield State is the first public university in Massachusetts and just the second public institution in New England that offers Music Therapy as a college major.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Timothy Honig, Assistant Professor of Music Therapy and director of the Bachelor of Music in Music therapy degree program at Westfield State University to hear more about why the program began and the benefits that music therapy has to offer. 

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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: This past fall semester, a new bachelor’s degree program launched at Westfield State University that taps into the power of music to aid in healing. Westfield State is the first public university in Massachusetts and just the second public institution in New England that offers music therapy as a college major.

I spoke with Timothy Honig, assistant professor and director of the Bachelor’s of Music and Music Therapy Degree Program at Westfield State University, to hear more about why the program began and the benefits that music therapy has to offer.

Professor Timothy Honig, Westfield State University: Music therapy is using what we know about the power of music to help people affect real, lasting change in their lives. We draw together knowledge from a few different professions, and in relationship with a professional music therapist, we can tailor usually interactive music experiences that help tap into what motivates and drives clients, and also leads towards lasting change in physical needs or emotional needs or social areas.

Zydalis Bauer: Tim, Westfield State University is the first public institution in Massachusetts and only the second in New England to offer a degree in music therapy.

Why did the university want to add this degree to its program?

Professor Timothy Honig: Westfield State University has a robust music department with a wide range of offerings. And Westfield also has a lot of energy around the arts and health sciences and other departments. And they found this whole where music therapy would fit quite well.

It aligns really well with how the university envisions itself connecting with the community and serving real needs in the community. And we’re finding that the network of expertize that our faculty have worked so well for helping to educate and train new music therapists to serve our community here in western Massachusetts.

Zydalis Bauer: So, this program is designed to be four years long, including an internship, and is individualized to meet the student’s specific skills and background.

Tell me more about what the program looks like and the process to pursue this degree at Westfield State.

Professor Timothy Honig: So, the degree is a bachelor of music, and that speaks to how it really is a music-focused degree. So, we help students learn a high level of artistry, but also to become really versatile performing musicians — learning guitar, learning singing, learning percussion, learning digital music production technologies.

We also weave in learning from courses in psychology and in health sciences and in cultural studies, that let students really know the breadth of all these different clinical scenarios that they might be working on.

And so, students will have four years of coursework. Beginning in their second year already, they start individual mentorship relationships with actual professional music therapists out in the field, providing music therapy to real clients.

Then, after that four years of coursework we’ll help them set them up with an internship at a facility for usually about six months. And that’s the case for almost every music therapy degree program in the country.

Zydalis Bauer: Upon completion of this program, what would a career in music therapy look like, more or less?

Professor Timothy Honig: One of the things about music therapy that I find so exciting is that there’s a place for everyone and there’s a place for every interest.

So, a career in music therapy might look like getting a job in an area facility, in an area institution, like Bay State Hospital in Springfield, which employs a couple of music therapists. It could be working in a school working with, let’s say, students who have learning disabilities or are autistic or have some learning difference or non-neurotypicality where they can benefit from music.

A career might also look like a private practice, where the music therapist is actually a business owner. About a quarter of music therapists in the country own their own business, where they serve clients at lots of different institutions and even in their homes to provide, well, a really well-rounded practice.

So, any music therapist will find their niche where they can tap into their passion and their strengths in music.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, Tim, you are a board certified music therapist. You’ve worked in inpatient and outpatient psychiatry, cancer care, general medical, and more.

What are the benefits of music therapy and have you seen and witnessed a growing demand for this profession in recent times?

Professor Timothy Honig: Nationwide, there are more music therapy positions than there are music therapists to fill them, which is a really interesting position to be in as a music therapist, right?

But music therapy is underdeveloped in New England, and we’re really looking forward. Something that’s inspiring to me is training a workforce that’s going to allow music therapy to grow so that we can provide these therapeutic benefits to our clients in the community. Some kinds of benefits that I’ve seen and that’s grounded in research, are areas like helping clients more fully manage chronic pain. In my work in psychiatric care, I would work with clients who have PTSD to help them learn how to better manage flashbacks and develop coping skills to help them function in a community without being so vulnerable to to their trauma.

But music is always touching us at many different levels. So, if we’re in a school working on helping a student learn better, it’s also helping them socially. It’s also helping them emotionally. And I think that’s one of the things that we as music therapists can provide that’s unique, that’s working with people at all levels of their human experience.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, as somebody who has presented your work regionally, nationally, and even internationally, what does it mean to you to now have this opportunity to be directing this new degree locally here at Westfield State University?

Professor Timothy Honig: It is so inspiring to me to work with students who have such strong connections to our community here, who want to be able to use their passion for music to give back to the people that have touched their lives.

So, being in this position to help cultivate really stellar music therapists is so inspiring to me, not just for them, but thinking about all of the consumers in our area that they can touch and whose lives that they can improve.