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Job Profile: Music Therapist

A career in music therapy offers unique challenges and rewards. Music therapists work with clients of all ages with varying disabilities. These might include developmental, cognitive, neurological, and physical disabilities. Some clients may have speech and hearing impairments or psychiatric disorders. A musical therapeutic relationship is developed to answer the needs of those with disabilities. Therapy is achieved through clients’ self-expression in moving, singing, playing, and reacting to various musical styles. Music therapists are employed by many types of organizations including hospitals, mental health centers, day care centers, schools, and their own private practice. While expected salary is on the low side, experienced music therapists find it to be an extremely rewarding career. And with the expansion of research behind music therapy, government agencies are providing more funding for music therapy programs. Employment opportunities are on the rise as well among many hospitals and organizations. A bachelor’s degree and board certification is required to start a career in music therapy.


The median average salary for a music therapist is $38,395 per year.

Beginning Salary

The beginning salary for a music therapist is around $31,000 annually.

Key Responsibilities

A music therapist’s key responsibilities include establishing goals for therapy, collecting and analyzing data from the client’s responses to music, and customizing treatment plans to each client. New treatments must be improvised to meet the client’s musical therapy needs. The music therapist will integrate behavioral, developmental, and neurological approaches into music therapy treatments. A music therapist must also be able to respond to emergency medical situations with the client. Music therapy provides emotional support, coping mechanisms, and physical rehabilitation. Clients are provided with a creative outlet for their feelings through music.

Necessary Skills

Music therapists should have a deep understanding of human psychology and knowledge of the principles and methods of therapy and counseling. They also need to possess powerful communication skills; this is mostly employed in listening to the client, attempting to fully understand, and not interrupting. Music therapists can specifically achieve communication through musical elements. Music therapists should have knowledge of a wide variety of music history and the power of musical elements. They must also be able to play and perform on many different types of musical instruments. Additionally, music therapists must possess empathy, compassion, imagination, and patience.

Degree and Education Requirements

A music therapist must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from a school approved by the American Music Therapy Association. They will learn the fundamentals of musical foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy foundations and principles. In pursuance of the bachelor’s degree, 1200 hours of clinical work is required, including a supervised internship. After completing the bachelor’s degree, music therapist candidates sit for the national board certification exam. The credential they receive from this exam is the MT-BC, or Music Therapy-Board Certified, and it is required for a therapist to practice. This sets a national standard for ethics and practice.

A graduate degree in music therapy focuses on research and advanced clinical practice. By pursuing a master’s degree, the music therapist specializes in a particular field of study such as theory, research, and practice. These can be further specialized in a doctoral degree to accomplish training in supervision, administration, teaching, and clinical practice.

Pros and Cons of This Position

Music therapists often talk about how rewarding the position is. They find that they are able to be creative in their work, never have the same day twice, and can be self-employed. Clients are all different, so each session differs from the next. Music therapists also find that most of their clients enjoy coming to their sessions and have a positive experience.

On the other hand, music therapy is not widely accepted and often lacks for funding. Professional acknowledgement can sometimes be hard to come by as a lot of people do not quite understand the full value of music therapy or its goals and accomplishments. In addition, music therapists do not make very large salaries. There is also an emotional toll as therapists deal with other people’s pain and problems on a daily basis. However, with a team of other experienced therapists by your side to lend advice, these challenges are easily met by a motivated music therapist.

Getting Started

The most important steps to becoming a music therapist are education and certification. In addition to these, those interested in starting a music therapy career should take the time to volunteer. Work at camps for kids with disabilities, in nursing homes, or any other setting that develops your idea of what therapy will entail. Places like these are always looking for volunteers and should welcome you into their programs. To tie in the musical side, become proficient in several musical instruments. The most common of these would be guitar and piano. Expand your general knowledge of music. Study musical elements and learn what emotional reaction they get in response. Working with people with disabilities should help to develop ethics and professionalism.

Future Outlook

Government agencies are beginning to see the value of music therapy, so the employment opportunities for a music therapist are expanding. They are now employed in hospice care, special education programs, pain and stress management clinics, oncology treatment centers, and many more. A music therapist can also create his or her own practice and be self-employed. If neither of those options sounds attractive, there is much research to be done to further expand the treatments available through music therapy. Government funding will flow more freely when the value of music therapy is proven to a higher degree.

A career in music therapy will not be high-salaried, but it will offer many employment and advancement opportunities. As the field expands, a music therapist can be innovative and creative in their treatment plans. Music therapy can be seen as the leading edge of therapy methods. This is a highly-rewarding career with a wealth of opportunity.

For further reading: Top 10 Online Master’s in Early Childhood Education

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