Music Therapist Job Description, Education, Training Requirements, Career, Salary, Employment

Job Description: Music therapy is an established healthcare profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals of all ages. While music therapy can meet the needs of children and adults with disabilities or illnesses, it can also improve the quality of life for persons who are well. Music therapy interventions can be designed to promote well-ness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.

Training and Educational Qualifications: Students may begin their study on the undergraduate or graduate level. The entry-level curriculum includes clinical coursework and extended internship requirements in an approved mental health, special education, or healthcare facility. Upon successfully completing academic and clinical training, and subsequently passing the national examination administered by the independent Certification Board for Music Therapists, the graduate acquires the credential, Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC).

Job Outlook: In 2005, seventy-nine new music therapy jobs were created, according to the American Music Therapy Association. A job outlook projecting into the future was not provided.

Salary: The 2006 Membership Survey of the American Music Therapy Association concludes that the overall average salaries of music therapists is $43,997 and the overall median salary is $40,000. Salaries increase with years of experience. For example, a music therapist with 1-5 years of experience falls into the average salary bracket of $34,977 but with more than 25 years of experience, music therapists’ average salary is $60,493; however, salaries vary greatly and can be as high as $150,000.

Significant Facts:

•    According to the American Music Therapy Association, the top four settings for music therapy work are in schools, geriatric and children’s facilities, and in private practice.

•    There is a concentration of music therapists in five states: New York, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Ohio.

•    A music therapy student must participate in a clinical internship program and take a comprehensive exam prior to becoming a certified music therapist.

•    Music therapists must be skilled musicians as well as trained therapists.


Music therapist and music therapy internship director, music therapist, music therapy intern, psychiatric nurses aide

Did you have an internship in this field prior to starting your job?

In 1986, I interned where I now am employed. In general, internships are accepted as a part of becoming a music therapist. Most internships are full-time for six months after degree requirements are completed. Seventy-three college and university music therapy programs follow the internship requirements set by the American Music Therapy Association.

Where are the best cities to live to find jobs like yours?

There are hotbeds that have a high concentration of jobs in music therapy. Since the concept of music therapy started in Kansas, the profession is recognized there and in the surrounding states in the Great Lakes region. New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, and Florida also have many jobs. But there are opportunities spread throughout the country. In some states, such as California, the state mandates that every hospital setting must have someone who does rehabilitation services (it can be dance/movement therapy, art therapy, occupational therapy, recreation therapy, or music therapy) and each hospital’s culture makes that decision. As a result, there are plenty of jobs in rehabilitation therapy including expressive therapies like music.

What is your typical day like?

I work normal hours, about 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In the morning, I find out who the new patients are and determine to which rehabilitation programs they should be assigned. Then I have a meeting with other members of the hospital staff nurses, social workers, and doctors (psychiatrists) to talk about patients’ treatment needs. Afterward, I lead a community meeting with all of the patients to welcome new patients and talk about plans for the day.

I do most of my work in group therapy. At 11:00 a.m. I have my group therapy session that deals with symptom awareness, coping skills, and ways of managing the symptoms. In the afternoon, I have another group but it varies on which type it is it could be another music therapy session, or a movement session incorporating Tai Chi or some other movement. I do a fair amount of talking therapy, music therapy, and bringing in other expressive art media with music, such as movement with music. Every day I also do written assessments of the patients’ progress. That takes about one-third of my day.

What are your job responsibilities?

My primary responsibility is clinical: to provide individual and group therapy using expressive arts and music therapy. I also provide skill training for managing patients’ illnesses. I’m a member of a multi-disciplinary hospital team whose members strategize with other hospital staff to create rehabilitation plans for patients. I am responsible for the documentation of patients’ treatment progress in their medical records. And in my particular job, I also manage the hospital’s music therapy internship program.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The clinical working with patients and seeing them get better.

What do you dislike about your job?

I’m quite happy in the work that I do. I have a good position within my facility. My work is well understood by others because it is an intensive and supportive treatment environment. Because of the types of patients in our care some of whom have severe illnesses we see rapid progress and we get many “thank yous” from them and appreciation from others for our work when they see that progress has been made.

How did you get into this industry?

I was involved in music as a child; I played the piano and the guitar. In high school, I noticed I had an interest in human behavior without thinking of it as a career. I grew up in Berlin, Germany, and I have dual citizenship. I had planned to stay in Germany but I had an opportunity to go to college in the United States for one year. I wanted to do it just for the experience, even though I had no intention of staying for more than a year. I had to declare a major, and in my mind, it didn’t matter what it was because I was only going to stay for one year. So I checked the “music therapy” box on the form. After the first year, I liked music therapy and I had enough funding to stay another year. By that point, I was halfway through the music therapy program. I returned to Germany to work as a nurse’s aid for a year and then came back to the United States to complete my music therapy degree. When I met my wife, also a music therapy student, I decided to stay. I did my internship where I currently work. After that, I worked five years at a private psychiatric hospital. Then I was invited to come back and work at the site of my internship. And I am still here today.

What do you consider your greatest professional accomplishment?

I have two things I would consider to be my greatest accomplishments: (1) My hospital is considered to have one of the best psychiatric settings in which music therapy interns can study I am proud that we are held in such high esteem and (2) the quality of the clinical work here. The joy and excitement that allow people to think and behave in a healthy way is part of the freedom I have to bring in the expressive arts in what I do.

If you weren’t doing this job, what similar careers might you consider?

The ministry it is related to expressive arts and mental health in that spirituality is embedded in therapy practice.

To what professional associations do you belong and what professional publications do you read?

I belong to the American Music Therapy Association. I read the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives.

What advice do you have for others who would like to pursue this career?

You have to be an excellent musician first before becoming a music therapist. You must have a love for music and excellent skills. In fact, you can’t be a therapist first you must be a musician first. The foundation has to be the expressive art. Then you learn therapy. If you don’t have quality music in music therapy, then the experience of therapy through music will not happen.