Music Therapists


Exploring this Job

To learn more about careers in music therapy, visit the Web site of the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), Talk with people working in the music therapy field and try to arrange to observe a music therapy session. Look for part-time or summer jobs, or volunteer at a hospital, clinic, nursing home, or any of a number of health care facilities. You might also consider becoming a student member of the AMTA. As a membership benefit, you will receive association publications such as the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives.

A summer job as an aide at a camp for disabled children, for example, may help provide insight into the nature of music therapy, including both its rewards and its demands. Such experience can be very valuable in deciding if you are suited to handle the inherent frustrations of a therapy career.

The Job

Music therapists use musical lessons and activities to improve a patient's self-confidence and self-awareness, to relieve states of depression, and to improve physical dexterity. For example, a music therapist treating a patient with Alzheimer's disease might play songs from the patient's past in order to stimulate long- and short-term memory, soothe feelings of agitation, and increase a sense of reality. A musical therapist treating a patient with a physical disability may have the patient play a keyboard or xylophone to improve their dexterity or have them walk to a musical selection to improve their balance and gait. Music therapists also treat people with mental health needs, learning and developmental disabilities, physical disabilities, brain injuries, conditions related to aging, alcohol and drug abuse problems, and acute and chronic pain.

The main goal of a music therapist is to improve the client's physical, mental, and emotional health. Before therapists begin any treatment, they meet with a team of other health care professionals. After determining the strengths, limitations, and interests of their client, they create a program to promote positive change and growth. The music therapist continues to confer with the other health care workers as the program progresses and adjusts the program according to the client's response to the therapy.

Patients undergoing music therapy do not need to have any special musical ability or be open to one particular musical style. Of course, the patient's personal therapy preferences, physical and mental circumstances, and his or her taste in music (such as a fondness for rap, classical, or country music) will all affect how the music therapist treats the patient.

Music therapists work with all age groups: premature infants, young children, adolescents, adults, and senior citizens. They work in individual, group, or family sessions. The approach of the therapist, however, depends on the specific needs of the client or group.

Some music therapists may also edit or write publications about music or creative arts therapy, teach music therapy education courses at colleges and universities, work as professional musicians, or specialize in other creative arts therapy careers such as art, dance, or drama therapy.