What’s Music Therapy?

I get that question all of the time. I never mind answering it though. It’s always a great way for me to share my wonderful profession.
I talked about music therapy a couple of weeks ago and gave the official definition in this post. I also talked about why I became a music therapist here.
But today I will share a little more about it. I will start with a great video called The Healing Power of Music that PBS had on in February. I used this video when I spoke to a group of pharmacy students at Purdue recently about music therapy. It is very interesting and illustrates quite nicely, many things about my profession. There are some session clips that are really great too. There is a longer version of this clip on the PBS website if you are interested. Take a look.
Music Therapist’s Education:
Music therapists hold at least a bachelor’s degree in music therapy. We can go through the doctorate level. There are over 70 universities and colleges in the US who have programs approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). I did my training at the University of Iowa – one of the best:)
In addition to our music classes, we take classes pertaining to working with different populations such as older adults, special education, early childhood, abnormal psych, etc. Of course we have to be proficient in playing instruments such as guitar, piano, voice, basic drumming..
 We also go into the community and do at least three semesters in a practicum or field work setting under the supervision of a board-certified music therapist. I really loved my practicum experiences. My first was in an inpatient psychiatric facility. The second was with three boys who have autism in a special ed classroom. The last was with adults who have developmental disabilities in a group home setting. I was also volunteering with the Sound Reach choir, which is a choir for adults with developmental disabilities, and is run through West Music. My experiences with people with DD confirmed my choice to look for an internship working with that population.
After our coursework is complete, we go on to do a 6-month clinical internship. There are many of these all around the country, focusing on different populations. I did mine at a state-run developmental center in southern California. It was a good experience and I got to work with several different people there with various degrees of developmental disabilities. When a job opened at the end of my internship, I applied and was hired. I worked there for 3 years on a behavior adjustment unit where approximately 25 men with autism and severe/profound mental retardation who had a lot of maladaptive behaviors lived. I LOVED my clients there and miss them very much. Every day was an adventure. 🙂
After internship, music therapists sit for the board exam given by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. (CBMT). Once we are board certified, we hold the credential MT-BC, which is something to look for if you are seeking music therapy services. It is a 5-year credential that is renewable through continuing education or by retaking the board exam. But I am not sure why anyone would want to retake the board exam! Going to conferences and continually studying our profession is so much more fun:)


Where do music therapists work and who do they work with?
 Basically anywhere you find healthcare. We use music to reach a non-musical goal. Music therapists work in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, schools, nursing homes, hospice, rehab facilities, private practice and the list goes on. We work with people with various disabilities or illnesses such as Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, kids and adults with developmental disabilities, autism, stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, brain injury, people with psychiatric illnesses and again the list goes on. You may be familiar with congresswomen Gabriel Giffords, who received music therapy treatment after being shot in the head last year. She is featured in the PBS video above and is recovering well.
So I think that gives you another good piece of info about music therapy and the education a music therapist has. I hope it was interesting and perhaps useful to young students considering music therapy as a career.
Thanks for reading. Have a fantastic day!

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