Sunday, November 28, 2010

So you want to become a music therapist...

MusicImage by doug88888 via FlickrI, rather regularly, receive emails and blog comments from people who are interested in becoming music therapists.  And I regularly send back big, long emails with information I hope they'll find to be useful. Well, suddenly, one of my slower neurons fired, and I thought, "why on earth haven't you written a blog with this advice in it, so you don't have to keep repeating yourself?!" 


Somewhere a dog barked. 


Aaaand, we're back.


Okay. So you want to become a music therapist. Fabulous! And you want to know what it will take, what kind of advice I can offer, whether you'll ever have an actual salary, what to write for that research paper that's due in 13 hours...and so forth.


(Stand back. I'm about to jump into list-making land.) (Actually, even though my blog posts aren't usually in list form, I have a deep and abiding love of lists.) (But I digress.)


1. It helps to be a fairly good musician.That said, it also helps if you learn to play guitar and piano.
Different schools that offer music therapy as a major have different requirements. I think, ultimately, the more skill you have as a musician, the more you have to offer your clients. If you're busy focusing on yourself trying to play a song or a particular instrument, you're no longer focusing on your client, and that sort of defeats the whole purpose of therapy. You know? You don't have to know how to play guitar and piano before you go to school, because that is part of the music therapy curriculum. Those are, however, two instruments that are used an awful lot in the course of a music therapist's day/week/life, so it's worth getting to a point where you're relatively comfortable with them.


2. And, while you're at it, get comfortable with using your voice.
When I first started out as a music therapist I was really shy, and I found it difficult to sing in front of anyone. Mercifully, I managed to move beyond that. We don't have to be brilliant singers, but it's important to carry a tune and be comfortable improvising and playing around with vocal sounds. I still remember a client I worked with who tore up an entire room and threw my entire music cart on the floor. For a good solid year I had to go and do his sessions with nothing but me and my voice. 


3. Be careful of your "helpful" intentions. 
When you're trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, it's not unusual to think, "you know, I really want to do something that helps people." We all have our reasons for wanting to somehow be useful in this world, and they're all valid and important. When we come to a profession like music therapy, though, I think it's important to be mindful of the various implications of being "helpful" (in terms of power, control, what it means to be "the helped", etc.). Because Norman Kunc and Emma van der Klift said it a lot better already, I  highly recommend reading their article, "Hell-Bent on Helping: Benevolence, Friendship, and the Politics of Help". It will, I hope, give you a whole new perspective on being "helpful".


4. Learn to pay close attention. Notice stuff.  
So much of my job is about paying attention. Whenever I have students come to do their practicum experiences with me, I have them fill out an observation form that I developed. It's an insanely complicated form, because in a music therapy session there is so much going on at any given moment and on so many levels. You have to be aware of your client (s), the music, yourself, the environment, the history...there's a lot of stuff happening. This is what makes music therapy so completely fascinating! You can practice at an activity level and be quite effective, and you can also decide that you want to go deeper and explore the therapy relationship, the dynamics within it, and how it's all expressed within the music, and that's really nifty as well! 


5. Expect that this will be a life-long learning experience. 
Music therapy is a growing and evolving field. Because there's so much to know (and you can't cram it all in at school!), so much to pay attention to, and because you can work at a lot of different levels, there's always something new you can be learning. For that reason, getting professional clinical supervision in music therapy after you've graduated is extremely helpful to your growth as a new clinician. Moreover, there are lots of trainings that music therapists can take to deepen their knowledge/skill in specific areas (GIM, Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy, Neurologic Music Therapy, NICU Music Therapy, Hospice Music Therapy, Vocal Psychotherapy, and I'm sure there'll be more sooner or later). 


6. Get used to advocating for yourself. 
Music therapy isn't the huge mystery it once was. These days when I say I'm a music therapist, people are way less likely to say "a what?!" than they were back when I first started out. Now I'm usually greeted with something along the lines of "oh, how cool!" As nice as that is, people often think they know what we do, but they really don't. Co-workers who've known us for years may still not have a clear idea of what happens in a session. I'l be straight with you: It can be quite frustrating when you see that someone who hasn't gone through the years of training you have is calling him/herself a music therapist (or being called one by the media). It can be even more challenging when supervisors, colleagues, and various other people/organizations who fund our services (who aren't music therapists) feel compelled to tell us how we should do our job.  Having said that, I would still maintain (and I think my music therapy colleagues would agree) that being a music therapist still far outweighs the difficult stuff. 


7. You'll need to figure out a semi-quick way to explain what it is you do for a living. 
Given that you'll have to spend some time advocating for yourself and showing people what music therapy is, it's important to have your "elevator speech" prepared shortly after you graduate from your program. The ladies of the Music Therapy Roundtable (Kimberly Sena Moore, Michelle Erfurt, and Rachel Rambach) address this very topic here.  


8. It's not likely you'll be rich beyond your wildest dreams, but you can definitely make a living as a music therapist.
A few months ago, our Rabbi at work asked me, as nicely as he could, on behalf of one of his congregants, "can music therapists make a living doing this work?" I assured him that we could. We can find jobs (we've been doing a lot of advocating- trust me), we can get health benefits, and we can make enough money to live peacefully. We'll never get the kind of money that, say, a computer programmer or a financial analyst would make, but most of us aren't starving. And if this is truly what you want to do, then you should do it. 


9. Get used to not knowing what's going on and sometimes being uncomfortable or awkward. Or at least come to terms with it. 
I would have to say that it's rarely dull being a music therapist. Sometimes your clients will do unexpected sorts of things, or you'll find yourself dealing with really uncomfortable feelings. And sometimes you can go for a really long time and not be at all sure you're on the right track with a client/group. Again, this is what makes this work so fascinating and so completely worthwhile! It's difficult when your own issues are triggered, but, heck! Your issues will be triggered no matter what you do. You may as well have an interesting job within which to notice them. 


10. Consider getting your own therapy (or your own music therapy, if you can). 
Being a therapist is hard work. Being a client is also hard work. If you've never gone through  your own therapy, and if you've never struggled in a big way with your own problems and emotional baggage, it will be hard for you to have a real understanding of what it's like to see yourself in a new way (which is not always a pleasant experience at first). Making changes in our lives is something most of us resist mightily. Looking at our resistance- ugh! It's not always fun. It's a long, bumpy road. And we ask our clients every day to allow us to stumble along that bumpy road with them. We owe it to ourselves and to our clients to at least bring along the map we saved from our own journey (even if they decide to take a different route). (Okay, I'm getting a bit nuts with the metaphors here, but you get the idea, yes?)


So there you have it. That's the list I have going in my head when people ask me for advice on becoming a music therapist, and now here it is! In blog-land! And if any of you music therapists out there in the world have other advice to offer, bring it on!


The good news (well, to me anyway) is this: I've been a music therapist for 24 years. Even on the worst of days, I have never regretted my decision to do this work! Much good luck to you as you go forth and consider whether or not the life of a music therapist is one you'd like as your own.










67 comments:

jaronrlines said...

Thank you so much for that! It really helped me. I'm currently waiting to hear back from Arizona State's music therapy program to hopefully start in January! I love reading you blog!

Sherrye said...

I like it, Roia! I got nervous after reading 1... but then realized I was pretty good for this field. :-)

Roia said...

@jaronrlines How cool! Thank you for stopping by to read my blather, and I wish you much luck at Arizona State! I hope you get in. Let us all know how it goes, eh?

@Sherrye Honestly! You've made it this far, and I can't imagine that MSU would graduate people who can't manage musically. Glad you roamed by for a read!

Rachel Rambach said...

Hi Roia! Excellent post...all great points. Liked #9 especially (so true). Thank you for the MTRT shout-out, too :)

Roia said...

@Rachel Hey there! Yes, #9 can be so darned...well, perpetual sometimes. Sigh. You are most welcome for the hooray about the Roundtable. Thanks for swinging by to read and say "hello"!

JoelK said...

Well said, well said! It's amazing how many practicum students haven't gotten past points 1 and 2. It's like they missed seeing the *music* in music therapy, or thought that part would somehow come on its own.

Roia said...

@JoelK It is a bit upsetting when music therapists in training aren't musicians first. I don't think all music therapy programs really emphasize that aspect of our work. That would probably be a whole other blog post though, eh? You want to take that one? Thanks for stopping by!

Amanda Forest Vivian said...

What if you can play instruments but can't read?

bamamusic08 said...

This is an awesome blog post that brings out important points to be prepared for.
This also brings out an amazing 'hidden' point to the blog itself. Music therapists, especially students and interns, need to connect to other music therapists on the web to soak in as much knowledge and sense that they can to be the best music therapists they can.
Sometimes you need to hear from an extra source past your own professors or supervisor :)

Roia said...

@Amanda Hey- thanks for wandering by for a read. I *think* you're asking about not being able to read music. Hm. Well, it's been done, but I would say that you may have to get your undergraduate training in something other than music therapy and then go to a grad school to get a music therapy equivalency at a school that is okay with that. Some are and some aren't.

Having said all that- as a part of my job, I have had to learn music really fast, and sometimes I have to figure out songs on the spot, and it's hard enough to do that when you're not familiar with a song, but it's even harder if you can't read music. Like I said (somewhere up there in the blog)- the more musical competency you have, the more you have to offer your clients.

@bamamusic08 Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think you make a good point in that we don't know what we don't know. If we're not aware that there's way more to music therapy than we're learning in school, then we're not as likely to go out into the professional world and grow in our knowledge and skill. And, I'm sad to say it, but this is the kind of job that can lead to burnout if you don't continue to evolve and learn.

Amanda Forest Vivian said...

Oh well, I figured.

bamamusic08 said...

Not that I view pursuing a career in music therapy as this, but that is what may keep me going and loving this field. Being a gamer (that I more or so use to be) I yearn for progress and growth as I push(ed) for in roleplaying games.

That is what makes life so beautiful. Being able to constantly grow to not only benefit yourself, but those around you.

Roia said...

@Amanda If it's important to you, you'll find a way. Have faith. Nothing important is all that easy.

@bamamusic08 It's a process, isn't it? That whole growth thing. Boy, is it a process. :-)

Catharine said...

Thank you so much, Roia! I really appreciate your advice. I'm researching which Music Therapy programs to apply to for next fall. I'm particularly interested in end-of-life care, both for the elderly and terminally ill. Do you know of any programs that specialize in that?
I really admire how you've shed light on the beauty in the hearts of your clients through your writing.

Roia said...

Hey, Catherine. Thank you for your kind thoughts and for reading the blog. Hm. I'm not really sure which schools (if any) specialize in end-of-life care, especially at the undergraduate level (maybe another music therapist with more experience in this area can jump in here and offer some wisdom). I will, however, say that there is a training that you can go through after you graduate that focuses on hospice music therapy. Having said that, though, I know a couple of music therapists whose work with people who are dying I truly admire and who have not gone through that training.

Personally, I would recommend continuing on and getting clinical supervision and then a master's degree. For one thing, there's so much more you can offer when you've had advanced training, and, as with most populations, you can work on a surface level, or you can choose to delve deeper and really look at the issues.

My experience has been that, if a topic is of special interest to you, you'll just focus on it while you're in school (and out) and learn everything you can so you can do your best by your clients. Good luck!

KIM said...

I'm planning to write my graduate thesis on the importance of mindfulness in a music therapy process. Could you offer some advices? Thanks!

Roia said...

That sounds like a neat thesis @KIM. I think I'd need more information before I could offer any thoughts. Mindfulness practice is not my area of expertise, but I have a couple of books that I found useful. Why don't you email me through my website? http://www.roiamusic.com.

Elise Ivey said...

One of my music campers just asked me about what they should do to prepare for the field of music therapy, so I directed them to this post!

Thanks for compiling such a great list!

Roia said...

And thank you, Elise, for the referral! Hope your, um, camper (?) found it to be helpful.

Anonymous said...

wow so much to do. i am a senior in grover cleveland hs. im considering musical therapy becuase of my love for music. music help me i so many ways so i want to help others using music, but in dont play any instruments so i have alot of things to do. to become a musical therpist but im going to work hard. thankypu for providing imformation about this profession.

Roia said...

@Anonymous You're welcome! And good luck! We're never really sure where our lives will take us, but we're always where we're supposed to be. At least that's what I'd like to believe. :- )

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this list! I really found it helpful to read through. I am currently considering going grad school for music therapy.
I have a few questions that I thought I would send your way:
What about music therapy on an international level? Is it possible to work as a music therapist overseas, in particular Asia? Is the training that you receive as a music therapist sort of...confined to your home culture, or can the skills and knowledge you develop be applied to different cultural contexts?

Roia said...

You're welcome, and I'm glad it was helpful. Your questions are excellent questions (sorry it took a while to respond- I've been away for a couple of weeks). I first want to refer you to Dr. Seung-A Kim at Molloy College (you can find her contact info here: http://www.molloy.edu/academics/undergraduate-majors/music-education/faculty-and-staff). She specializes in culturally informed music therapy, and I'm sure she could give you way more information about this issue than I can.

I don't have a specific answer for you, but I would say that the basics of music therapy (being a proficient musician, knowing about different types of approaches to therapy, developing an identity as a music therapist, and that sort of thing) are the same within any cultural context. Presumably, depending on where you choose to live, you would have to learn about the culture of that country (or many cultures- given the variety of people who tend to congregate in the same space) and work within that awareness.

Gosh, as I think about it, this really is an interesting and complex question. Anyone else have some thoughts to add to this? Dirk Cushenberry is also one who has travelled far and wide and was trained in the US. Perhaps he'll chime in here.

Dirk Cushenbery said...

Good list Roia! I particularly like #5 and #9.
I also like your comment on us being where we are supposed to be.
This sense of....vocation, if you will, is also a valued asset.
One other that you also demonstrate is a sense of humor.
Hmmm that said, I'm a little late to this party, was I supposed to be here earlier? :)

Roia said...

Hey, Dirk! I'm so glad you did, in fact, chime in. I think you're absolutely right about a sense of humor. Sometimes things go so horribly in a session and being able to step back and not take it as the end of your career/sanity and see the humor in it is a definite good thing (and, of course, it helps the folks we work with to know they can do the same thing).

And, no, you're not late to the party. If you read up a few comments, we just wanted your opinion about working overseas with an American music therapy education.

Ischelle said...

Hey, I'm still in high school but im really curious and interested in this field. So, what is the process of music therapy like, generally. What is the pay range, what highsch grades is minimally required, is music therapy course only available in America/Australia, what are the most renowned universities for this course, what is the working hours, do you study medicine as well? Lastly, how do you find clients or do clients just come? Sry for the bombardment of questions but I'm really curious, so thank you!!

Shrimply Furtive said...

Thank you so much for this post. My friend is thinking about going back to school, and is considering becoming a music therapist. This list will really help her decide. Thank you!

Roia Rafieyan said...

You're most welcome. I wish your friend (and you) well on her quest. Thanks for swinging by!

Roia Rafieyan said...

Ischelle, sorry for the late response. I think a good place to start with your many questions is the American Music Therapy Association website: www.musictherapy.org They have some of the answers to your many questions, and they can put you in contact with music therapists who live in your area so you can connect with them and perhaps shadow a music therapist through your guidance counselors/career folks in your school. Good luck on your path!

obinnaunn said...

i appreciate this http://www.unn.edu.ng/department/educational-foundations

Kyla Parkins said...

This is probably a dumb question, but I'm trying to make sure of some things. I'm a junior in high school thinking about going into musical therapy and I was wondering what kind of college prep I should be looking at. I really want to go to Whitworth University. The problem is they have great psychology and music programs but not a musical therapy program and I know it's a bit different. But I was wondering if there is a way to become a musical therapist by double majoring in psychology and music? Or do I need to look at school somewhere else to do specifically music therapy? My future is definitely unsure and I'm trying to make the pieces fit. Any advice?

Roia said...

Hey, Kyla- welcome! It's not a dumb question, and the only way to find stuff out is to ask. First, the field is actually just called "music" therapy. Knowing that will make it easier for you to find out more information when you're searching for it. As for your question regarding college prep- you need to take the usual college prep classes, I imagine (all the stuff that'll help you do well on the SATs and help you get into college in the first place), plus you need to be proficient on at least one instrument (or with your voice), because you'll need to pass an audition. It wouldn't hurt to have some music theory in there as well.

To become a music therapist you do actually have to have graduated from a school that offers music therapy as a major course of study. (Matt Logan has a list of schools on his blog, Music Therapy Source: http://musictherapysource.com/students/musictherapyschools/). That way you can go, do your internship, and then take the test to become board-certified (www.cbmt.org).

If you feel strongly about studying music and psychology, another option is to do that, graduate, and then go and get a master's degree in music therapy. Of course, you'd need to take the undergraduate classes you missed, but there are also equivalency programs out there. As our field grows and evolves, there has been a lot of discussion of late with regard to requiring a master's degree to practice (just so you're aware).

One thing you might do is see if your state has a music therapy association (not sure where you're located) and contact them to find out if you can observe music therapists (or go through your high school guidance counselors/career exploration services) and see how you feel about it. I found that very helpful when I was your age. Good luck to you!

Barcelona Publishers said...

music therapy encouraging children and adults to have a self-belief in their own musicality

Hannah Rose said...

I want to thank you for posting this. I was freaking out earlier because this was the path I was thinking of going after,but then Someone asked me a bunch of questions and I honestly had no clue how to answer them. This article really helped me understand more on what you do. I really love music and I really love helping people that need it and I believe this is what I want to do. I can sing farely well, but the only thing I can play on any instrument is Star Wars on the piano. That's it. Now, I can see that I don't necessarily have to know how to play Bach or Mozart to start my schooling and I feel a whole lot better about it. I am still a little leary on where to go and how to do it, but who wasn't when they were figuring their future out? Again, thank you for making this post, it helped more than you could ever know.

Roia said...

@Hannah Rose I'm so glad you found it helpful, and I wish you luck moving from Star Wars themes to the great beyond of music therapy! :-D

Graham Peck said...

Thanks for the advice. Got my undergrad in music comp/performance from CalArts, and am currently looking at the ASU grad program. Glad to hear someone say I can make a living in a music related field for once!

Roia said...

Sure can @Graham Peck! And I'm glad you found my spiel useful. Isn't there some saying about making a living versus making a life? Perhaps in music therapy you can experience both. Good luck in the quest!

Ariana said...

Hello!! I am currently 18 years old, trying to enter college, and deciding what career to pursue; becoming a Music Therapist sounds amazing! I have a deep passion for music and helping people, and I truly believe that music can change people's lives. Anyways haha what I'm trying to say, is that I wanna make Music Therapy my career, but I am not so sure about what type of classes I should get in college?? Perhaps vocal and piano lessons? psychology? I would absolutely appreciate if you could recommend some type of classes or something that would help me get on the right path? Thank you for your time!

Roia said...

Ariana, first find a college that offers music therapy as a course of study (https://netforum.avectra.com/eweb/DynamicPage.aspx?Site=AMTA2&WebCode=OrgSearch&), and then they'll let you know which classes you'd be taking. Music therapy students have a pretty intense course of study, taking mostly required classes (meaning, there's not a lot of room for electives). It's best to talk to the person in charge of the program to find out which classes you'd be taking when. Good luck in your quest!

Kimberly said...

Hey there Roia! I'm in a similar position to the last commenter--I'm in high school and wanting to pursue a music therapy career in university. However, the university I'm looking at doesn't offer music therapy as a major. Is a major in music therapy actually required? I've looked at prerequisites for MT Master's programs and only seen things like, "you must have a BA in music and [insert a few psychology courses]".

Would I still be able to get a MA by majoring in music and minoring in psychology?

Roia said...

Hey, Kimberly- If you want to be a music therapist, yes, you do need to have a degree in music therapy. That said, there are some programs that offer equivalencies in music therapy (you come in with whatever music degree you have) where you'd take classes toward a music therapy degree, and then you'd be eligible to sit for the board certification exam. There are others that will let you work toward a master's degree in music therapy, but you'd have a lot of undergraduate courses you'd have to take and then you'd have to also work on your master's thesis.

So, the answer to your last question is yes, you could get a master's degree in music therapy without a music therapy undergraduate degree. The thing you might have going for you if you have a bachelor's degree in music therapy is classes, such as guitar and piano, would (hopefully) be clinically focused from the beginning. You'd still need to get a solid musical foundation though (all the theory and history classes), so those classes are definitely in common.

Good luck!

Kimberly said...

So you would highly recommend just getting a music therapy major and not going for a master's at the moment? (I would still be qualified to work professionally, right?) I'm also not very proficient at piano or guitar (I can play a handful of chords on each) but I'm a vocalist and have been playing flute for 5 years. Would that matter? I can learn piano/guitar from scratch at university, right?

Thank you so much :) Your blog and responses have been so helpful.

Roia said...

Kimberly, I don't think I'd "highly recommend" anything. I am just trying to help you see you have a few different options. And yes, at this time, you can work as a music therapist with an undergraduate degree in music therapy. You have to have at least a bachelor's degree in music therapy in order to be eligible to sit for the board certification exam. Once you pass that, you're designated as an MT-BC (Music Therapist- Board Certified (www.cbmt.org), and you're off (although some states now require a license) (but first get a degree and then worry about the licensing). And, yes, learning to play piano and guitar is part of the music therapy program curriculum. It never hurts to take lessons before you get there, but if you don't, you can learn at school.

I'm glad you found this helpful!

Irene Wald said...

I'm currently in High School and really want to pursue music therapy. I'm a bit hesitant though because a lot of the colleges I've looked at talk about auditions and I don't know if I'd be good enough to get into a program. I've been playing clarinet for 5-6 years. I also started playing piano a few years ago but I just started taking lessons a few months ago. I'm also trying to learn guitar, but so far I only really know chords. From your experience and in your opinion, am I prepared to take a music therapy program?

Roia said...

Hey, Irene- I think it's great you're interesting in becoming a music therapist, and you're working on learning guitar and piano. Yes. Music therapy programs are usually located in music schools, and you do need to audition on your main instrument (which sounds to be the clarinet) as a part of your application process.

As to whether or not you could manage an audition, I'd talk to your clarinet teacher (you'll learn piano and guitar as part of your music therapy education, so those are helpful, but first you've got to get yourself into school, so I'd go with the instrument you've played the longest). Your teacher should be able to help you prepare the types of pieces you'll need to play in order to get into music school. I think schools usually have their audition requirements online these days (I haven't looked, but, hello! It's 2016 and everything else on earth is online). So bring those requirements to your clarinet teacher and go, play, win! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm currently in community college and will very soon receive an AAS, but I want to pursue a career in music therapy after I graduate. What advice would you give considering I love to sing and love music in general. I am a bit shy singing or performing in front of others and played the flute in Junior HS.
Any feedback would be great, thanks!

Graham Peck said...

I will be going to CSUN in the Fall for my graduate degree in MT. What are some of the best cities to live in after that to work in MT? I would love to be somewhere that has an active community in my field.

Roia said...

Hey, Graham, congratulations on going for your master's in music therapy! Gosh, that's a good question. There are a lot of music therapists all over the US, and probably the places with the more active communities are those where there are universities. Honestly though - there's a very active community of music therapists online. I know Facebook is the biggest time drain of all time, but there are quite a few music therapy groups you might want to check out. This may be a good question to pose in Music Therapists Unite! (one of the larger groups) (and yes, the exclamation point is part of their name). Good luck!

Sky Miles said...

Hi , Thanks for your post . It was very helpful and enlightening.

I'm wondering... Do you think it's possible if one doesn't know how to play an instrument already other than voice that with learning piano and guitar they may get into a program ?
Im looking into going to Colorado SU after I get some gen eds from a local community college but i'm afraid that because I don't know any instruments to proficiency that I wouldn't be able to learn in time to take the program .
How long would you think it would take ome to learn two instruments at 30 yrs old. I really love the idea of this field I just want to be practical and need to assess all aspects of this.

Thanks for hearing me out

Roia said...

@Sky Miles, thanks for your interest in music therapy! There are actually many music therapy majors whose main instrument (if you will) is voice. I'd recommend having a conversation with the music therapy professors at CSU and get details about what you'd need to do as part of an audition. I don't recall needing a lot of general education courses (other than some writing classes), but what I wish I'd had a better grasp of when I went to music school was music theory. All music therapy programs teach piano, guitar and voice. If you want to get a head start on other kinds of learning I'd recommend taking guitar or piano lessons (rather than trying to learn on your own), simply because it takes a while to unlearn incorrect techniques (I say this both as a person who has taught guitar to music therapy students and as a person who has experienced a lot of tendonitis type issues in my hands). It also wouldn't hurt to connect with local music therapists to see if they'd be able to have you shadow them for a day or two. I don't know if you live in CO, but here's their state association website: https://musictherapycolorado.org Lots of luck to you!

Roia said...

@Anonymous who posted back in April (so sorry! I completely missed your comment): gosh, it's hard to say. I know there are a lot of music therapists who don't like "performing" in front of people. I guess the way they/we cope is by focus on what's going on for clients rather than focusing on our self-consciousness. At this point I'd say keep exploring music therapy, observe music therapists (if you can), and decide if it still feels like a good fit for you. If you think it does, go for it! :- )

Yeri Park said...

Hi,
Thank you for this awesome article.
I had a quick question for you. I did my undergraduate degree as a music performance, emphasis on strings: cello. If I want to become a music therapst, do I have to have an undergrad in music therapy or can I apply for music therapy degree in masters?

Roia said...

Glad you found it helpful, Yeri! You can apply for a masters degree in music therapy without an undergraduate music therapy degree. You'll have to take some of the classes you didn't have though. Check with the schools you're interested in, because they have different requirements. Some give you an equivalency and at other universities you can get a master's degree. Good luck!

Abigail Lag said...

Hello, thank you for this enlightening article! I am a high school senior looking to go to college for music therapy. As of now, my top choice for school is Berklee college of music. This school offers Music Education and Music Therapy as undergraduates. Some people I have talked to say it would be better to get an undergraduate in Music Ed and a graduate in Music Therapy. Would you agree with this? At Berklee they are both 5 year programs, with the last year being an internship of sorts. Do you think going for only a Music Therapy undergraduate would be okay? Thank you!

Roia said...

Hey, Abigail - Welcome! Gosh, it's hard to answer your question. I'd say if your wish is to be a music therapist then there really is no need to have an undergrad degree in music ed. The approach is pretty different, and, as of this moment, you can practice as a music therapist with an undergraduate degree. Good luck in your quest!

Graham Peck said...

Hello Roia,

you helped me a few years back when I commented about starting to look into studying music therapy. I have since been accepted into the graduate programs at Florida State and Lesley University. I am currently in the process of finding scholarships and funding, but am finding it quite hard on my own. The schools are fairly large, and not very helpful when it comes to anything but loans. I was hoping you might have some advice!
Thank you!

-Graham

Roia said...

Congratulations, Graham! That's exciting indeed! And, gosh, you couldn't have found two more different schools in terms of philosophy (at least as far as I'm aware). Honestly, finding money is not my area of expertise. It's been a while since I was in school, but don't they still have the FAFSA to fill out? Are you eligible, perhaps, for scholarships? I'm sorry I can't be much help in this. Wishing you much luck! ~Roia

Graham Peck said...

Thank you for the previous ideas on scholarships! I had one other question I thought you might be able to help with. Lesley includes works towards an LMHC, but FSU does not. Do you feel this type of license is very important to have as a music therapist, and if so, is there a way to get it after school instead? Thanks for all the help! You are an amazing resource Roia !

Roia said...

Hey again, Graham - the LMHC is usually helpful if you're interested in doing psychotherapy-focused work. It's helpful to have, I'd say. That said, again, Lesley and FSU have very different philosophical approaches. FSU has always had a more behavioral approach and Lesley is more humanistic/relational in its approach (I believe - you'd have to speak with both schools to get a better sense of which one feels right to you). Personally, I tend more toward the relational/psychotherapy approach. If you're aiming to do more of a psychotherapy thing, you're better off getting the LMHC while you're still in school. At least that would be my opinion. If you wait until you're done it's just extra expense, and you're out of the habit you've already established of doing school stuff. So, yes, of course you could wait and become an LMHC after you're done, but do you have a specific reason for not just doing it while you're in school?

And I'm glad to be of service. I look forward to meeting you at a conference some day! :- )

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I just started looking up this specific field. I feel like I have been a bit lost in life. I graduated with a BA in psychology a few years ago. Afterwards, I could not figure out what to do with it. Since then I ended up working in the medical field but feel I do not belong where I am.

Music has helped me at key points in my life, and today (while listening to music to get my son to sleep) I thought of having my son pick out a song everyday that spoke to him as a way of communicating his feelings that would otherwise be hard to talk about. As soon as I realized what I was thinking of the pieces clicked together. Maybe, this is what I am supposed to do! (I admit that I may have gotten a bit too excited lol)

I still have some research to do but your article gave a clear description of what music therapy is. I am hoping my degree in psychology isn't too old since it is an ever changing degree. I am wondering if the degree will help the process of becoming a music therapist? Should I focus mainly on the music part now since I would need to learn how to play and read music? Thanks for all the helpful information!

Roia said...

Hello @Anonymous and welcome. I'm glad you found the post helpful. I'm sure your psychology degree will help, because, really, everything we learn helps us in some way (okay, well...almost everything). Anyway, yes. It is important to be a skilled musician of some sort (instrumental or vocal), otherwise you won't be able to use the various musical elements as part of your work. Wishing you well as you pursue a fulfilling career!

Emma said...

What qualifications do you need at GCSE and A-Level to take on music therapy? Also, what college or uni did you go to to get this degree?...I'm currently on the brink of picking A-Levels and I need to know what this all consists off before finalising my choices for A-levels

Chad Reed said...

Hi Rola,

I appreciate this post. I am writing you because, while I feel like I have what it takes to be a music therapist, I am feeling disheartened about the possibility of ever being able to become a credentialed music therapist.

I found out about music therapy when I was a senior in high school. I was very fortunate to have an opportunity to shadow two music therapists at a school for special needs children. At age 17, my only instrument was guitar, and I was not classically trained, thus I felt like I would not be able to gain acceptance to any music school, and my dream was crushed. I went on to major in Psychology.

Fast forward 15 years to today— I am months away from completing my second masters degree, this one in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I plan to become a LPCA after graduation.

Before I go further, I should say— due to my circumstances and place in life, I am simply not willing to pursue another bachelors degree. Also, my wife might literally kill me if I talk about more school, haha.

So my question is this— if I do not earn a bachelors degree in music therapy or the equivalency training after a music degree, is there any way I can practice music therapy professionally/formally (ethically)? Additionally, are there any professional organizations and certifications out there other than AMTA?

Do you have any advice on how I might be able to incorporate music into my practice as a LPC?

- Chad

Roia said...

@Emma I'm so sorry, but it sounds as if you're not living in the US, and I'm afraid I'm unfamiliar with things such as A levels. All of my music therapy education has been in the United States. I'd suggest finding the national association for music therapy in your country and asking them. I suspect they'd be a lot more helpful than I'd be able to be in this situation. Good luck!

Roia said...

@Chad Wow! Those are some challenging questions you pose. Well. Without training as a music therapist (and, more importantly, without credentials) you can't really ethically practice as a music therapist. I'm not sure where you live, but more and more states are licensing music therapists, so that would put you in a pretty awkward situation. Here are the many options, but they all seem to require you have *some* kind of music therapy degree or equivalency: https://www.musictherapy.org/careers/employment/

That said, music therapists aren't the only people on earth who use music. There's an Association for Creativity in Counseling that may be helpful to you: https://www.creativecounselor.org

There are Certified Music Practitioners and Music Thanatologists (here's a link to an AMTA document that compares these to music therapy: https://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/TxMusicServicesAtAGlance_15.pdf.pdf) And apparently there are standards for becoming a therapeutic musician: http://www.nsbtm.org

Either way, I wish you luck as you commence your counseling career. As music therapists, we always appreciate advocates, so don't underestimate your role as a strong advocate for creative arts therapies! You never know when a new opportunity will present itself and maybe your dream of becoming a music therapist will come true!

Katherine pettit said...

Hi Roia!!
I'm starting as a sophomore in highschool this week and I'm really stressed about trying to find a profession to go into. I've heard about music therapy before and it has really intrigued me and so your blog post was really helpful for some information!
I know how to play piano fairly well ( as I've been playing it since I was 6) and I can sing a little bit, but I can't play guitar at all and I don't know if that would cause a problem if I go into this profession.
I can also sometimes have a hard time focusing on several things at once, and it would be really cool to hear if you have any tips for what you do to focus on so many things going on!
I also have a couple questions about schooling... do you have to take any prerequisites before majoring in music therapy? How long did you have to go to school and how long do you have to spend on learning new songs and other things to help your sessions? Are there any classes that I can take concurrently through my highschool if my school offers it? Thanks for the post and let me knowing you have a moment! :)

Roia said...

Hello, Katherine - I think it's fantastic you want to explore music therapy as a potential career option. That being said, the most useful thing I can say to you at this time in your life is this: you still have three more years of high school ahead of you. Who you are now may change significantly between now and senior year. Even if you *don't* do much changing, it would be such a shame to spend your entire time at high school stressed.

As to your specific questions: you can either start to learn guitar now or you can learn when you're in school (every music therapy program has a guitar class of some sort). If you do decide you want to learn now, do it because you love music with a passion and you truly want to find new ways of being with music, not because you think it'll make you a better candidate for music therapy school.

I got to be pretty good at focusing in sessions by practicing and being present. I'm old(ish), so I don't have a smart phone. So when I'm with people, I'm *with* people and listening to them. Sometimes, though, it can still be hard (after 30 years of doing this) to focus on everything at once. So I just notice that it's hard on a given day.

It helps if you know how to read music (which, obviously, if you've been playing piano for so many years, you can). Maybe join a choir. It's always nice to have the experience of singing with other people. And it helps you listen. One thing I was able to do in my high school (through our career exploring department, I guess it was) was set up a day to go and shadow a music therapist. That helped a lot!

Mostly, though, if you truly love music, just make as much of it as you can. But if you're doing it (making music, I mean) just for the sake of being "the perfect music therapist" (which is something that remains elusive for all of us professional music therapists, even after 30 years!), then don't do it. There are so many interesting things to learn in high school, so just be curious and notice what you're drawn to rather than forcing yourself down any particular path. Sending you peace as you commence this interesting journey!