Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What the heck is a music therapist anyway?

Every day I go to the institution where I work.  Many of the people I serve, who live there, have autism and everyone has some sort of intellectual and/or developmental disability. Most of the people I provide services to don’t use speech to communicate or they use very few words.   I’m their music therapist.  

Many people don’t know what it means to be a music therapist or to do music therapy.   That’s okay, because there are probably a lot of us who work as music therapists who don’t know what it means to be a music therapist either.   I’m not saying that to be rude or disrespectful.  There’s a lot to know about music therapy, and I’m realizing that it takes an entire career to learn it.  I’ve been at this for twenty years, and I still think there’s a whole lot I don’t know.

Anyway, in a nutshell, a music therapist is someone who uses the various elements of music (for example, rhythm, timbre, melody, harmony, lyrics, etc.) in the process of helping someone to change or grow in some way (for example, emotionally, behaviorally, physically, etc.).   

Music therapists can practice at the Bachelor level of education, but many of us have opted to get Master’s degrees and beyond.  In the United States we take an exam which, when we pass it, designates us with the credential MT-BC (which means “Music Therapist-Board Certified”).  We’re expected to maintain that credential by going to conferences and engaging in continuing education.

We have studied our major instruments, and we are proficient (hopefully) on piano and guitar as well.  As it happens, my major instrument is guitar.  We use our voices, and we use a variety of percussion instruments.  We can pretty much use any instrument therapeutically, and I would have to put forth that we’re limited only by our skill and imagination.  In addition to music, we study the major psychotherapy approaches, group dynamics, and human development along with learning specific music therapy styles and methods.

I completed my studies at Temple University and Drexel’s Hahneman Creative Arts in Therapy program.  So that’s the general overview of how I got to be here.


Unknown said...

Thanks for writing this blog. I am very interested in Music Therapy. I have been for awhile, but have no idea how to go about getting the degree I need to practice it, as many colleges nearby do not offer Music Therapy as a major.

I went to school to be a music major and ended up getting my AA in Music and then transferring to another university where I changed my degree to Psychology. I then got married and have now relocated to another state...I am attempting to enroll in a college in the fall, but I am reading up on what degree program I need to get in. Should I finish my Psychology? Can I still be a music therapist with a BS in Psychology?

So many questions and I understand if you don't have time to answer them. But I will continue reading to get more information about this career path! Thank you.

Roia said...

Thanks for your comment, Cassidy. I'm not sure whereabouts you're located, so it would be hard to make suggestions as to schools. I will, however, say that you do need to have a music therapy degree to practice as a music therapist. That said, there are certainly a lot of psychologists who use music in their practices.

There are a number of masters degree programs in music therapy, and they are often willing to accept people who don't have an undergraduate music therapy degree. Certainly studying psychology and music would be helpful if you're hoping to eventually look into becoming a music therapist. Good luck to you!

halo said...

Thanks for sharing experiences. I lov your blog!! :)

I also want to be a music therapist,too. I've learned violin and piano for 13 years so I studied in music performance in Taiwan for a year.Then I immigrated to U.S.
My best friend got PTSD and this made me think what can I do for other people by music.

Now I'm looking for universities for Music Therapy program for undergraduate. And I really need some suggestions abt Cal State Northridge and University of Georgia, because I know that it's nothing to do with the ranking when I'm looking for learning MT program. I'll select these two as my final choices because of my personal reasons.

And..I hav compared CSUN with UGA. It seems that CSUN has more resourses for music therapy. Yet the reputation of UGA is better than CSUN. I really confused...

aywy, thanks for ur reading...and I will still keep reading your updated article..:D

Roia said...

Thanks for your kind words, halo. And thanks for reading.

That's terrific that you'd like to become a music therapist. I don't know much about either one of the schools you mentioned, but perhaps you can ask the professors at each of the universities to put you in touch with music therapists who have graduated from their programs.

That way you can ask them questions and get an idea of other people's experiences.

Interestingly (to me anyway), I have a dear friend from Taiwan who also received her master's degree in music therapy from Drexel.

I wish you well in your quest to become a music therapist!

K. Suzanne said...

Just a thought... Do you think perhaps the reason it takes a lifetime as a music therapist to start to understand what it is could be the fact that music it self is essentially a mystery? I mean, more conventional therapies use concrete means to achieve their goals, but we use this awesome power that comes from somewhere outside ourselves; one that we don't fully understand, even after years of training in music theory and instrument/voice techniques.

~Rachael said...

I'm in the process of trying to obtain an equalivance to a bachlor's in music therapy. I know that i want to go ahead and go for my master's. Is there any advice you would give to an undergrad going into this field?

Roia said...

@K.Suzanne I know it's been an age since you commented here (sorry about being such a poke). I'm still trying to come up with some useful thought to offer you about this. I'm inclined to believe that it's not the music that's so difficult to understand. Rather it is our humanness that gets in the way of making things more simple. I'll have to ponder it some more, but that's what I'd have to say for now.

@~Rachael Hm. You know? Lots of people ask me advice with regard to becoming a music therapist. Maybe I should sit still and write an actual post about it. Thank you for the inspiration, and let us know when you become official so we can welcome you to the field!

GirlWithTheCane said...

What a fascinating job you must have! I am happy to have found your blog, and am looking forward to reading about your experiences. :)

Roia said...

@GirlWithTheCane Well, thanks. I think my job is pretty cool. I'm so glad you stopped by, and please feel free to toss in your "opinionated" hat when the mood hits. :- ) I love comments! Off to see what you've written about in your world...