Music Therapy

"Music is a complex form of expression which defines us as human. It opens us to vivid images, moves us to tears, speeds up our heartbeats, and transports us to other places and times."

“Music is a complex form of expression which defines us as human. It opens us to vivid images, moves us to tears, speeds up our heartbeats, and transports us to other places and times. . . . The most incapacitated people respond to music, and sometimes only to music; those most capable express a world of undefinable or indescribable feelings and thoughts through music.” So writes Dr. Suzanne Hanser, MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified).

What is music therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) describes music therapy as an established health care profession in which music is used in a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified therapist designs a plan and provides the indicated treatment including: creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in a therapeutic context, client abilities are strengthened and carried into other areas of their lives.

Music therapy provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Neurologist and author Dr. Oliver Sacks writes: “I regard music therapy as a tool of great power in many neurological disorders because of its unique capacity to organize or reorganize cerebral function when it has been damaged.”

What do music therapists study?

The education of a music therapist is unique among college multidisciplinary programs because it allows a thorough study of music along with behavioral sciences. The curriculum is designed to build entry-level competencies in several main areas: musical and clinical foundations, as well as principles of psychology, as specified in the AMTA Professional Competencies, which are in compliance with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). A prospective music therapist pursues a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in music therapy.

After academic studies are completed, a six-month internship is required (with a minimum of 1,200 hours) to satisfy clinical training requirements.

After completion of academic and clinical requirements, the prospective therapists may sit for the National Certification Examination and earn the credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC), awarded by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT).

What is the career outlook in music therapy? recently placed music therapy fifth on the top 10 list of “cool careers.” With another click of the mouse you’ll find editor Kate Lorenz’s interesting and informative article entitled, “Cool Jobs: Music Therapy.” Shelly Fields also devoted several pages to music therapy as a promising career in her book, 100 Best Careers for the 21st Century. These references emphasize that health care professions, in general, are among the few employment sectors experiencing growth.

Currently, there are more jobs available than there are music therapists to fill them. Over 5,000 music therapists are employed throughout the United States, with a continued increase predicted for the future. Music therapy positions are available in schools, nursing homes/assisted living, private practice, and inpatient psychiatric units, as well as noninstitutional settings such as outpatient clinics, home health care agencies, and hospice centers.

While the salary range varies from one geographical area to another, the overall entry-level salary ranges between $36,000–$42,000 per year in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

Although a career in music therapy can be challenging, it is rewarding and always an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Music therapy just may be the ideal way to combine your love of music with the desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

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