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The Career in Music Therapy Brochure: View, download or print our Career in Music Therapy brochure. For a current list of schools offering degrees in music therapy, go to our online directory and search under member type for "AMTA-approved Schools".
Career Options: Listen to AMTA's Director of Professional Programs, Jane Creagan, MME, MT-BC, in a discussion with a student who is considering a career in music therapy.
A Career in Music Therapy
A Career in Music Therapy offers challenge, opportunity, and distinctive rewards to those interested in working with people of all ages with various disabilities. Music therapists are employed in many different settings including general and psychiatric hospitals, community mental health agencies, rehabilitation centers, day care facilities, nursing homes, schools and private practice. Music therapists provide services for adults & children with psychiatric disorders, cognitive and developmental disabilities, speech and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, and neurological impairments, among others. Music therapists are usually members of an interdisciplinary team who support the goals and objectives for each client within the context of the music therapy setting. Return to Top
Music Therapy is an allied health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, psychological, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, the client's abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of his or her life. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Music therapy differs from other bedside music. Click here to see a chart comparing music therapy and other therapeutic music. Research in the music therapy profession supports the effectiveness of music therapy in many areas such as facilitating movement and overall physical rehabilitation, motivating people to cope with treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for the expression of feelings. Return to Top
Personal Qualifications of a Music Therapist include 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, creativity, imagination, an openness to new ideas, and understanding of oneself are also important attributes. Because music therapists are musicians as well as therapists, a background in and love of music are also 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. Return to Top
The Education of a Music Therapist
The education of a music therapist is unique among college degree programs because it not only allows a thorough study of music, but encourages examination of one's self as well as others. The undergraduate curriculum includes coursework in music therapy, psychology, music, biological, social and behavioral sciences, disabilities and general studies. Entry level study includes practical application of music therapy procedures and techniques learned in the classroom through required fieldwork in facilities serving individuals with disabilities in the community and/or on-campus clinics. Students learn to assess the needs of clients, develop and implement treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes. At the completion of AMTA-approved academic training and internship, the student is eligible for admission to the certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, Inc. Upon passing the national examination administered by the CBMT, the student acquires the credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC). Coursework requirements vary; contact individual universities for specific information.
Individuals who have earned a baccalaureate degree in an area other than music therapy may elect to complete the degree equivalency program in music therapy offered by most AMTA-approved universities. Under this program, the student completes only the required coursework without necessarily earning a second baccalaureate degree. 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. Candidates for the master's degree in music therapy must hold a baccalaureate degree. Some schools require either a bachelors degree in music therapy, the equivalency in music therapy, or that the candidate be working concurrently toward fulfilling degree equivalency requirements. Contact individual universities for details on pre-registration and entry requirements. Although there is no AMTA-approved doctoral degree in music therapy per se, selected universities do offer coursework in music therapy in combination with doctoral study in related academic areas. Return to Top
The Approved Curriculum
The Approved Curriculum for the baccalaureate degree in music therapy includes coursework in music therapy, psychology, music, biological, social and behavioral sciences, disabling conditions and general studies. The undergraduate curriculum includes practical application of music therapy procedures and techniques learned in the classroom through required field work in facilities serving individuals with special needs in the community and/or on-campus clinics. Students learn to assess the needs of their clients, develop and implement treatment plans germane to those needs, and evaluate and document clinical changes.
STANDARDS FOR BACHELOR’S DEGREES
1) The bachelor’s degree in music therapy (and equivalency programs) shall be designed to impart entry-level competencies in three main areas: musical foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy foundations and principles, as specified in the AMTA Professional Competencies.
2) In compliance with NASM Standards, the bachelor’s degree in music therapy shall be divided into areas of study as follows (based on 120 semester hours or its equivalent). Please note that the courses listed below each area of study are only suggested titles of possible courses or course topics.
Musical Foundations (45%)
- Music Theory
- Composition and Arranging
- Music History and Literature
- Applied Music Major
- Functional Piano, Guitar, and Voice
Clinical Foundations (15%)
- Exceptionality and Psychopathology
- Normal Human Development
- Principles of Therapy
- The Therapeutic Relationship
Music Therapy (15%)
- Foundations and Principles
- Assessment and Evaluation
- Methods and Techniques
- Pre-Internship and Internship Courses
- Psychology of Music
- Music Therapy Research
- Influence of Music on Behavior
- Music Therapy with Various Populations
General Education (20-25%)
- English, Math, Social Sciences, Arts,
- Humanities, Physical Sciences, etc.
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Bachelor's Degree Requirements
The music therapy degree is a professional music degree which requires an audition for acceptance into the school of music. This specialized degree is offered at over 70 colleges/universities whose degree programs are approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).
The degree is four or more years in length and includes 1200 hours of clinical training, which is a combination of fieldwork experience embedded in music therapy courses and an internship after the completion of all coursework. The music therapy degree is designed to impart professional competencies in three main areas: music, music therapy, and related coursework in science and psychology. Knowledge and skills are developed through coursework and clinical training, which cover the theory and practical application of music therapy treatment procedures and techniques. The competencies are learned in the classroom, as well as in the required fieldwork with at least three different populations at facilities serving individuals with disabilities in the community and/or on campus clinics. The education and training culminate with in-depth supervised clinical training in the internship.
Upon successful completion of the music therapy bachelor’s degree an individual is eligible to sit for the national certification exam to obtain the credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) which is necessary for professional practice. The national exam is administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT).
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Music Therapy Undergraduate Equivalency
Individuals who have earned a baccalaureate degree in an area other than music therapy may elect to complete the equivalency program in music therapy offered by most AMTA-approved universities. Under this program, the student completes only the required coursework necessary to satisfy professional competencies in music therapy without necessarily earning a second baccalaureate degree.
The equivalency program consists of all core music therapy courses at the undergraduate level, all clinical training requirements including the internship, plus any related coursework in science and psychology (i.e. anatomy, abnormal psychology, and other related courses).
Upon successful completion of the music therapy equivalency program an individual is eligible to sit for the national certification exam to obtain the credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) which is comparable to the eligibility of the baccalaureate degree as cited above.
Music therapists who complete either the bachelor’s degree in music therapy or its equivalent, acquire skills that allow them to provide music therapy services within the context of a treatment team. At this level, the music therapist utilizes music therapy techniques to meet clients musically and clinically. The music therapist demonstrates basic knowledge of assessment, treatment, documentation, and evaluation; communicates empathy and establishes therapeutic relationships; and demonstrates understanding of ethical principles and current standards of practice.
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Individuals who have a bachelor’s degree in music are eligible to pursue a Master’s degree in Music Therapy offered by 30 AMTA-approved degree programs, by first completing the required undergraduate music therapy coursework including the internship, (essentially the Music Therapy equivalency described above) then move onto the master’s coursework, which imparts further breadth and depth to the professional competencies, including advanced competencies in music therapy.
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A music therapist with a bachelor’s degree in music therapy can obtain a master’s degree in music therapy to expand the depth and breadth of their clinical skills in advanced and specialized fields of study such as supervision, college teaching, administration, a particular method, orientation, or population. The master’s degree programs offer a number of different titles which relate directly to curricular design. For example the Master of Science in Music Therapy places advanced music therapy studies within the context of allied health and the physical sciences, while the Master of Music Therapy places advanced music therapy studies within a disciplinary context of theory, research, and practice in music therapy.
Credentialed Music Therapists who obtain a masters degree in music therapy, further expand the depth and breadth of their clinical skills. These skills added to professional practice in music therapy of sufficient duration and depth, allow the music therapist to gain a comprehensive understanding of the clinical process of the client and the therapist’s impact on that process. Through such experiences the music therapist moves beyond didactic knowledge to integrate rationale, theories, treatment methods, and use of self to enhance client growth and development. Based on a comprehensive understanding and integration of theories and practices in assessment, treatment, evaluation, and termination, the advanced music therapist takes a central and independent role in client treatment plans.
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Some music therapy academic programs offer doctoral degrees in music therapy or related disciplines, which impart advanced competence in research, theory, development, clinical practice, supervision, college teaching, and/or clinical administration, depending on the title and purpose of the degree program.
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Opportunities for Employment
Opportunities for Employment are available to the Music Therapist, not only in traditional clinical settings, such as agencies serving individuals with emotional, developmental, or physical disabilities, but in new and expanding areas of health care delivery. For example, music therapists are now employed in hospice care, substance abuse programs, oncology treatment centers, pain/stress management clinics, and correctional settings. 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. A hearing before the U.S. Senate's Special Committee on Aging and the subsequent passage of the Older Americans Act of 1992 have increased the recognition of music therapy's value, as well as employment opportunities.
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The American Music Therapy Association, Inc.
The American Music Therapy Association was founded in 1998 as a union of the American Association for Music Therapy and the National Association for Music Therapy. Its purpose is to support the therapeutic use of music in hospital, educational, and community settings. Currently, AMTA establishes criteria for academic programs in colleges and universities, clinical training sites, and professional registration of music therapists. Members of AMTA adhere to a strict Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice that govern the clinical practice of music therapy. Through the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives, as well as other publications offered by AMTA, research findings and clinical studies relevant to the practice of music therapy are shared with interested professionals. For further information about membership, publications, employment opportunities or other benefits, contact the American Music Therapy Association.