Music Therapy Jobs: Becoming A Music Therapist


Music Therapy

Music Therapist

Music therapy uses an individual’s response to music to improve mood, mobility, and well-being.

For centuries, music has been effective in lifting mood and decreasing pain, long before music therapy became a structured professional field in allied health.

Music therapy can involve listening to music, making music with instruments, singing, dancing, writing songs, moving to music, and exploring the impulses, emotions, and memories those activities evoke.

Therapy can occur in individual sessions or a group setting. It is appropriate for all ages and does not require any unique musical ability by the participants to be effective, although the therapist must have musical training.

Music therapy is used in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, senior centers, outpatient clinics, substance abuse programs, prisons, juvenile correction facilities, and private practices.

Music affects the brain in multiple ways—different parts of the brain process pitch, melody, rhythm, and body coordination. The parts of the brain that regulate emotions and the pleasure or reward centers of the brain are also activated by music.

Because music has such wide-ranging effects on the brain, it can improve mood, relieve stress, diminish pain, and treat grief, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

It can also be used to treat individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, along with those recovering from stroke or brain injury.

Interpreting and responding to music does not use the same part of the brain that processes words and verbal communication, which may be damaged in these individuals.

Likewise, music therapy can be successfully used with children too young to communicate their emotions or concerns in words and with autistic individuals who have difficulties recognizing and verbalizing feelings.

In some cases, charges for music therapy will be covered by the individual’s health insurance as a necessary health-care intervention.

Music therapy can be split into two main categories: creative or receptive. Innovative treatment may involve singing, writing songs, improvisation, drumming or using rhythm instruments, and dancing.

Receptive therapy involves listening to music and then discussing the thoughts, feelings, ideas, or memories inspired by the music. Beyond this general division, specific approaches are used to meet particular needs:

  • Cognitive-behavioral music therapy uses a structured approach to reinforce positive behaviors and modify less desirable behaviors. It takes a creative process and can include singing, dancing, or playing musical instruments.
  • Analytical music therapy is improvisational and flexible. It uses singing or playing an instrument to bring to the surface suppressed thoughts that can be discussed with the therapist.
  • Nordoff-Robbins music therapy is creative music therapy. The individual plays a rhythm instrument and is accompanied by the therapist using a different device. The goal is to improve self-expression and self-esteem.
  • Bonny guided imagery involves listening to classical music to stimulate imagination, sensations, and memories and then discussing these with the therapist.
  • Benenzon music therapy involves finding sounds and music that match the individual’s psychological state and discussing what these choices mean with the therapist.
  • Vocal music psychotherapy uses vocal exercises, sounds, and breathing exercises to connect with and bring out deeper emotions and impulses that may have been suppressed.
  • Community music therapy is a form of group therapy that helps to promote change within the group.


The American Music Therapy Association was formed in 1998 to promote the field and standardize the credentials necessary to become a practicing music therapist.

Music therapists are credentialed healthcare providers. To become a music therapist, one must earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in music therapy or associated field from a university program approved by the American Music Therapy Association.

About 60 schools in the United States offer this degree, and about half this number also offer graduate degrees in the field.

In addition to general studies, course work is required in music, music therapy, biology, psychology, social sciences, and behavioral sciences.

The future music therapist must also have proficiency in voice or at least one musical instrument, although many people entering the field have multiple music skills.

In addition to earning a degree, becoming a certified music therapist requires 1,200 hours of internship and supervised clinical training.

At the end of the training, the individual must pass a national examination administered by the independent Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Upon passing the examination, the individual becomes a credentialed Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC).

The average earnings for certified music therapists range from $40,000 to $80,000 annually, with a median salary of about $49,000.