A Day in the Life of a Psychiatric Music Therapist

Recently, it came to my attention that unless you are a music therapist, or you’ve worked with one, you are likely to have no idea what a typical day looks like in our work. [Thanks for the inspiration, Bob]! Today, I had the pleasure of attempting to photo document what I look like as I go about a normal day within the workplace. Unfortunately, I’m unable to share any pictures of group sessions that I facilitated due to HIPAA, but I believe I managed to capture everything else.

Feel free to journey back in time to my workday today, a regular Thursday.

Note: This is me warming-up in the parking lot, not actually driving during this picture.

1. Warm-ups/Commute. A music therapist must start the day with some vocal warm-ups. No matter if voice is your main instrument, we use it a lot within music therapy. I find that if I start warming-up during my commute, I’m more likely to begin mentally preparing for my patients and visualizing any plans for group sessions. I also find that it allows me to wake up and look a bit more “fresh” when I arrive to work.

This is also important for a music therapist’s physical health. Recently I came down with a case of the old tendinitis because I wasn’t warming up my hands/wrists/fingers before playing guitar. Physically being out of commission drastically alters our abilities to do our jobs, so it’s important we have good habits for taking care of our physical-musical self in addition to any other self-care strategies.

2. Unpack new supplies. Today I had the pleasure of unpacking new instruments! IMG_1582Two djembe drums arrived while I was off on my weekend so I prepared for the day by testing them out and showing them off to my co-workers, 2 recreation therapists with whom I have the pleasure of sharing an office.

*Shout out to the rec therapists for photo documenting my day! You know who you are! 🙂

3. Undocumented photo: Doing the census.Yay! We begin our day by going over the census of the patients in order to see who is newly admitted, who has been discharged, and preparing ourselves to assess new patients. This requires working within the hospital documentation system and looks suspiciously like photo #6.

4. Undocumented photo #2: Attending a quick treatment team meeting. I did not want to subject all of the treatment team to a photo, so just know that we meet each morning to discuss pertinent information about any patients so that we are all on the same page in preparation for the day.

5. Packing up. After attending our quick staff meeting, I prepare myself for the day by packing up for my first group; a 45-minute group session on a 33-bed unit. I don’t know who will be coming, but attending the staff meeting allows me to gain insight and information about what to expect on the unit that day.

*Shout out to the amazing resources  that we have within our hospital pictured above and the shared closet space for Integrated Therapies (music and rec therapy)!

IMG_15986. Documenting. Every healthcare professional’s best friend. Each group session, individual patient interaction, and any other important information is documented within patient charts. Patients’ responses to music therapy (in my case) are documented in order to record their participation in groups, noted behaviors and responses, and any additional comments that help describe their progress in therapy, effects of their medications, and their interaction with the therapeutic milieu as a whole.

*Shout out to dual monitors! Worklife-altering documentation resources.




7. Cleaning instruments. Who doesn’t love cleaning? It’s important to follow infection control protocols working in the hospital setting, even though it’s psychiatric care and not a main medical unit. You will find me occasionally cleaning my instruments on the unit after a group (especially if the instruments have really spread out around the room), but I often find it easier to clean in the closet.

*Note the gloves in use for those very high-intensity cleaning wipes. Always wear gloves when using those purple-lid wipes. (I actually have no idea what they are called even after years of cleaning with them)!

8. Session planning. Occasionally I get some time during the day to practice new songs to add to my music therapy songbook, brainstorm new intervention ideas, or compile portfolios of patient projects, like my patient original songs binder pictured below. This is a blessed, but rare time, which I always cherish. (And somehow manage to spend more time thinking versus doing). 

9. Complete assessments of new patients, finish out the day with final music therapy groups, and “other duties as assigned”. Today required collecting some more supplies, gathering resources for patients, and preparing for the week ahead. Oh, and also posing for all of these pictures! These final photos are a glimpse of what you would see if you were a patient, hospital staff member, or visitor at the hospital and came across me. Just a day in life of a music therapist carrying large, unusual equipment around the hospital.

Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of witnessing such a fantastic way to spend a workday (in my opinion). If not, I hope this at least provides a deeper picture of what it looks like to be a music therapist, outside of the music therapy itself. Feel free to shoot me any questions about the workday of a music therapist within psychiatric care or add to the comments below!

2 responses to “A Day in the Life of a Psychiatric Music Therapist”

  1. Thank you for this! I am a junior in high school looking to be a Music Therapist and we are doing a research paper on a career we would like to go into. This post really helped me!


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