FAQ: Music Therapy

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Music therapy is an exciting and growing field that attracts applicants with a wide variety of musical and community interests. If you love music, enjoy working with people, and hope to use your talents to make the world a better place, a career in music therapy may be for you.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the use of musical techniques (called “interventions” by many music therapists) to treat a wide variety of conditions including PTSD, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and others. People living with autism, depression, and stress have also been shown to benefit from music therapy. The work of music therapists is flexible and dynamic, tailored to the needs of individual clients. As a music therapy student, you will prepare to work with a variety of clients in many different modalities so that each client receives the therapy that treats their condition best.

How Many Music Therapists Are Out There?

According to CNN, there are somewhere around 5,000 music therapists practicing in the United States. Wellness centers, nonprofit organizations, veterans’ groups, community centers, schools, and other areas employ music therapists to work with individuals. Summer camps, out-of-school-time programs, and enrichment activities often use music therapy to supplement their other offerings for children and young people. That being said, music therapists work with clients of every age.

Can I Make a Living as a Music Therapist?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, music therapists can expect to make approximately $47,000 a year depending on level of experience, credentials, and location. The amount you make will depend on the niche you choose to pursue. Many music therapists are paid by the state through arrangements with private clients who receive disability accommodations. Other music therapists work as staff people at community organizations. Talking to music therapy alumni is a wonderful way to learn more about how music therapists make a living and what kinds of options will open themselves up to you once you graduate from the program.

Do I Need Music Proficiency to Be a Music Therapist?

All music therapists need to have some level of music proficiency to become music therapists. You are regularly playing music and demonstrating techniques for clients, so it’s essential that you are comfortable with several instruments as well as your voice. Your music therapy program is invested in helping you achieve a high level of music proficiency. As you work to attain your degree, you will have plenty of opportunities to practice in ensembles, private lessons, and other contexts.

Is Music Therapy an Accredited Profession?

All working music therapists must be accredited by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. This body is an independent organization that will administer a test you will need to pass to become an MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified). Your professors and other mentors will work diligently to help prepare you for this exam, taken after you have achieved at least a bachelor’s degree in music therapy. The accreditation process ensures that there is a high standard of care in music therapy contexts throughout the country.

Where Do Music Therapists Work?

Music therapists work in many contexts including the following:

  • Education. Because young people develop at an extremely rapid rate, childhood experiences can positively or adversely affect us for the rest of our lives. Music therapists in education provide young people with a safe space to express themselves.
  • Elder care. Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other age-influenced chronic conditions can be treated with numerous kinds of music therapies. Music therapists can adjust their approach no matter how far any of these conditions have advanced.
  • Veterans groups. Many veterans experience PTSD, physical injuries, and other kinds of pain that can last a lifetime. Music therapists take veteran-specific approaches when working to problem-solve with this population.

What Kinds of People Pursue Music Therapy?

Who becomes a music therapist? People who love people. People who love music. People who want to make a positive mark on their community. People who are interested in working with diverse populations. People who believe in the power of music. All of these people and more pursue music therapy because they have experienced first-hand the ability of music to change lives. You don’t need to be dealing with a serious health condition to know the power of a tune to change your mood. The complex field of music therapy uses this foundational concept and applies brain research, recreational therapy techniques, and more to help find solutions to troubling conditions and complicated problems.

Will I Still Be Able to Pursue My Creative Interest After Becoming a Music Therapist?

Music therapy is a highly appropriate path for those who are seeking a stable job and want to pursue a creative career. Because you will be working musically with clients every day, you’ll be able to continuously hone and evolve your own musical interests inside and outside of work. Each client is different because each person requires a tailored approach to their complex set of circumstances. This kind of creative problem-solving is an essential skill for any kind of musician. The skills you build during work will naturally translate themselves to your out-of-work creative pursuits. As a music therapist, you may also have the chance to collaborate with other musicians, whether they’re clients, other music therapists, or additional musicians who accompany you to the site.

How Do I Find the Music Therapy Program That is Right for Me?

Finding the right program is an important process. It’s essential that you pick a program with professors whose work aligns with your goals. The Frost School of Music uses the unique Frost Method which involves small groups of students working closely with a professor on course work intensively. Music therapy lends itself to the Frost Method especially. If you have questions about the program and would like to learn more, contact our program director Teresa Lesiuk, Ph.D., MT-BC. The best way to reach Dr. Lesiuk is by emailing tlesiuk@miami.edu or by phone at (305) 284-3650.