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.