Education and Training Requirements
To become a music therapist, you will need a bachelor's degree, so take a college preparatory curriculum while in high school. You should become as proficient as possible with music, musical instruments, and musical theory. When therapists work with patients, they must be able to concentrate completely on the patient rather than on learning how to use tools or techniques. A good starting point for an aspiring music therapist is to study piano or guitar.
In addition to courses such as drama, music, and English, you should consider taking introductory classes in psychology. Also, communications classes will give you an understanding of the various ways people interact, both verbally and nonverbally.
To become a music therapist you must earn at least a bachelor's degree in music therapy. There are more than 70 American Music Therapy Association-approved college and university music therapy programs in the United States and Canada. Typical courses in a bachelor's degree program in music therapy include professional music therapy, music therapy theory, assessment, evaluation, populations served, ethics, and research and clinical interventions. Undergraduates will also take supporting courses in music, psychology, and human physiology.
In most cases, however, you will also need a graduate degree to advance in the field. Graduate school admissions requirements vary by program, so you would be wise to contact the graduate programs you are interested in to find out about their admissions policies. For some fields, you may be required to submit a portfolio of your work along with the written application. The AMTA provides a list of schools that meet its quality standards at its Web site, https://www.musictherapy.org/careers.
In graduate school, your study of psychology and music will be in-depth. Classes for someone seeking a master's in music therapy may include group psychotherapy, foundation of creativity theory, assessment and treatment planning, and music therapy presentation. In addition to classroom study, you will complete an internship or supervised practicum (that is, work with clients). Depending on your program, you may also need to write a thesis or present a final artistic project before receiving your degree.
Other Education or Training
The American Music Therapy Association offers continuing education e-courses. Topics include professional ethics, management issues, career enhancement, and music therapy interventions, applications, and strategies. Contact the association for more information.
Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements
Certification or Licensing
Students who receive a bachelor's degree in music therapy are eligible to sit for a certification examination offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Therapists who successfully complete this examination may use the designation music therapist-board certified. Music therapists are required to renew this certification every five years by completing continuing education credits or by retaking the certification exam.
Many music therapists hold additional licenses in other fields, such as social work, education, mental health, or marriage and family therapy. In some states, music therapists need to be licensed depending on their place of work. For specific information on licensing, you will need to check with your state's licensing board. Music therapists are also often members of other professional associations, including the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the American Counseling Association.
Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits
Internships, co-ops, volunteering, and part-time jobs at employers that provide music therapy services will provide useful experience.
To succeed as a music therapist, you should have a background in and a love of music. You should also have a strong desire to help others seek positive change in their lives. You must be able to work well with other people—both patients and other health professionals—in the development and implementation of therapy programs. You must have the patience and the stamina to teach and practice therapy with patients for whom progress is often very slow because of their various physical and emotional disorders. A therapist must always keep in mind that even a tiny amount of progress might be extremely significant for some patients and their families. A good sense of humor is also a valuable trait.