As a result of my TEDx talk, I’ve received emails from a lot of people asking me how they can become a music therapist or go about a career change. What an awesome response from people! Initially, I attempted to respond to each email, but realized this is probably a better platform to answer those questions. So, if I have not responded to you, I apologize, but hope this answers your questions. Please bear in my mind that these suggestions are based on my own experiences and understanding, and you should take that for whatever that’s worth.
Music therapy is certainly an interesting field in that many people venture into this career from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and ages. The way in which you can become a music therapist will depend on your previous education and your musical level. In order to be a practicing music therapist, you need to complete the right course of music therapy education for you and successfully finish a 1200 clinical hour internship. Once those are complete, you are then eligible to sit for the board-certification exam (MT-BC) and can begin practicing music therapy!
The question I receive most often is, how do I get on a music therapy career path? This question depends on a multitude of factors, but really boils down to what is your current education level and musical background? The American Music Therapy Association has a great resource to answer this question more fully, but I’ll reiterate the basics here.
Once you’ve determined your route, it then becomes a question of what program is the best fit for you. This could mean considering many angles, including:
- Not only consider if it is the right geographic location for you, but is it in a city that supports music therapy? This could contribute to the number and variety of practicum opportunities available to you.
- Program and school size
- Growing your clinical abilities requires a lot of supervision. Consider how a program size may affect the amount of supervision you receive from faculty and mentors.
- The school of music or music department’s program itself
- Is it classical performance based or more eclectic in styles? What is the better fit for you musically?
- Will you be challenged as a musician to build flexible and proficient musical skills on your main instrument and more?
- The music therapy faculty
- Do their bios inspire you?
- Is their experience and knowledge of the field obvious?
- Have they contributed to music therapy research, projects, or served as committee members for our national organization?
- The style of music therapy taught
- There are many schools of thought within music therapy, and some schools feature a particular school of thought (Neurologic MT, Nordoff-Robbins, etc.). Do your research on how they might differ from one another and what may speak more to your passions and drive.
- Music therapy curriculum
- Research what is expected of AMTA accredited programs.
- How many clinical trainings will be required of you?
- Are the course offerings innovative and comprehensive?
- Are there multiple faculty members providing a well-rounded foundation of knowledge and experience?
- Research what is expected of AMTA accredited programs.
There are certainly many aspects that can help inform your decision (not to mention all the regular considerations for choosing a university). Some aspects will weigh more than others for you, and the good news is that no one graduates knowing it all, regardless of the program you graduate from. Make sure to look for schools offering accredited music therapy programs through AMTA’s accredited universities list.
The last question to consider is: I’m interested in this career, but how do I know music therapy is the right fit for me? Ultimately, only you can answer that question but there are some aspects you should seriously examine. I love the points Roia makes in her blog post here and I’ll add my two cents.
- You should be a flexible musician. Yes, you should be a strong musician before you enter into any training as a music therapist and you should bear in mind that in order to pass your exam, you must be proficient in guitar, voice, and piano. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t also have a different major instrument. Music therapy is about adapting music in therapeutic and effective ways to meet the needs of the client. The world is your oyster as far as the tools you use, but you’ll learn how to appropriately use a variety of instruments in effective ways, including your own major instrument. [My major instrument was classical voice. Do I often sing soprano arias to my patients? Not usually. BUT, I do know how to adapt the instrument I was trained on to use it when I need to. Have I used my classical soprano voice in sessions? Absolutely, when the time called for it.] Also, you must be flexible in accepting and offering all styles of music, despite your personal preferences. What speaks to you may not be what speaks to someone else.
- You should have care-giving qualities. Do you care deeply, and ultimately want to help others? Are you altruistic, kind, and have genuine interest in others’ well-being? Do you have the patience to work with the toughest of situations, people, and circumstances? Are you curious, aware of others’ needs, and flexible? These are all qualities that can be refined and built upon, but will ultimately need to become like second nature.
- You must be open to failure, challenges, heartbreak, and disappointment. With anything in life, times can get tough. Within music therapy, the amazing responses from clients outweigh the difficulties, but they still exist. It may take years of working with one client before a particular breakthrough. You may lose a patient to a battle of disease. You may fight for a long time to create a new music therapy program at your dream facility. You may spend your entire career explaining what it is you do. You must know when you begin that music therapy isn’t easy. But it’s worth it.
- Lastly, you must love music. This seems fairly obvious, but it’s so important. You have to love music so much that immersing yourself in it day in and day out does not become a burden. Sure, I’m often tired of music, but it doesn’t mean I can’t come right back to it the next day after a bit of a break. You have to be passionate enough about continued music discovery that you are continually re-discovering and creating new ways in which you can use music therapeutically. You have to be determined enough to endlessly challenge yourself in becoming a better musician. You must be open to hearing others’ opinions about your music and the ways in which you can reach someone better through your musicianship. Lastly, music must continue to be your therapy. Ami addresses the importance of avoiding music clinification here, but the idea is that you must continue to feed the fuel of your music passions so that music itself does not lose its power for you.
Maybe that was more information than you wanted. Maybe that was everything you needed to hear to validate your decision in entering the field. Know that everyone’s path to music therapy is a little different, but anyone will tell you it is a career worth altering your path for!
Feel free to shoot me any more questions I did not address. Welcome to your music therapy journey!