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Music Therapists

Music Therapists use music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages. They structure the use of both instrumental and vocal music strategies to facilitate changes that are non-musical in nature. Music therapists design sessions for individuals and groups based on client needs using a variety of techniques and approaches. Music therapy interventions can be used to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication, and provide unique opportunities for interaction.

Nature of Work:

After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, qualified music therapists develop a treatment plan with goals and objectives and then provide the indicated treatment. They may improvise or compose music with clients, accompany and conduct group music experiences, provide instrument instruction, direct music and movement activities, or structure music listening opportunities. Music therapists provide services for children and adults with psychiatric disorders, developmental disabilities, speech and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, and neurological impairments, among others. Music therapists are usually members of an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals who work collaboratively to address clients’ treatment needs.

Education Required:

Those who wish to become music therapists must earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of over 70 American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved colleges and universities. The curriculum is designed to impart entry-level competencies in three main areas: musical foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy foundations and principles. Entry level study requires academic coursework and 1,200 hours of clinical training, including a supervised internship. Graduate programs in music therapy examine, with greater breadth and depth, issues relevant to the clinical, professional, and academic preparation of music therapists, usually in combination with established methods of research inquiry.

Once the education requirements and clinical training are completed, students are eligible to take the national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT), an independent, non-profit certifying agency fully accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. After successful completion of the CBMT examination, graduates are issued the credential necessary to practice music therapy, Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC). To demonstrate continued competence and to maintain this credential, music therapists are required to complete 100 hours of continuing music therapy education, or to re-take and pass the CBMT examination within every five-year recertification cycle.

Personal Qualities:

Music therapists should have a genuine interest in people and a desire to help others empower themselves. The essence of music therapy practice involves establishing caring and professional relationships with people of all ages and abilities. Empathy, patience, tact, a sense of humor, imagination, creativity, and an understanding of oneself are important characteristics for professionals in this field. People thinking about music therapy as a career must be accomplished musicians. They must be versatile and able to adjust to changing circumstances. Music therapists must express themselves well in speech and in writing. In addition, they must be able to work well with other health care providers.

Job Outlook and Advancement:

Opportunities for Employment are available to the Music Therapist, not only in traditional clinical settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and agencies serving individuals with developmental disabilities, but also in hospice care, substance abuse programs, oncology treatment centers, pain/stress management clinics, correctional settings, and private practice. Additionally, many music therapists work in special education settings where they provide either direct services to students with disabilities or function as consultants for music educators and special educators.

As an increasing number of consumers seek non-invasive, alternative and complementary therapies as treatment options, the need for music therapists continues to rise. An increased need for music therapists in early intervention programs, special education settings, geriatric facilities, and community based services offers a variety of employment options. The next ten years hold positive opportunities for the music therapy profession

How to Prepare for a Career:

Because music therapists are musicians as well as therapists, a background in and love of music are essential. Individuals considering a career in music therapy are advised to gain experience through volunteer opportunities or summer work in nursing homes, camps for children with disabilities, and other settings which serve the needs of people with disabilities. Contact music therapists working in your area [free lists available at and], request an appointment, and ask about the profession. High school students interested in music therapy should take a variety of music classes, as well as courses in science, English, communications, and psychology.

Resource Information:

American Music Therapy Association, Inc.
8455 Colesville Road, Suite 1000
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910-3392
(301)-589-5175 Fax

Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT)
506 East Lancaster Avenue, Suite 102
Downingtown, PA 19335
T: 1-800-765-2268 or 610-269-8900
F: 610-269-9232

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The National Center to Improve the Recruitment and Retention of Qualified Personnel for Children with Disabilities (Personnel Improvement Center). A Cooperative Agreement, H325C080001, between the US Department of Education and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Project Officer: Maryann McDermott
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