The pathway to becoming a music therapist is pretty straightforward, but with a bit of a twist.
Complete your music therapy degree
A music therapy degree typically takes four years of coursework in undergraduate studies and a 6-month internship once coursework has been completed.
A potential music therapy student must audition on a major instrument or as a vocalist in a school of music and be accepted to enter a music therapy program. As an undergraduate a student can expect to study music theory, music history, improvisation, music therapy theories, and engage in studio classes on their major instrument, as well as learn new instruments that can be used in therapy practice. Alongside music courses, a student will take psychology courses ranging from psychopathology, human development, principles of talk therapy, assessments and evaluations, etc. Most second year students will be placed in a practicum site where they will be able to practice music therapy skills under direct supervision from a licensed music therapist.
Apply for a music therapy internship
After a student completes all undergraduate coursework, they apply for a music therapy internship that is either nationally accredited or affiliated with their university. This is where music therapy interns train full or part-time under direct supervision of one or more music therapists to gain real life clinical experiences. Internships sites can vary but typically are seen in mainstream healthcare organizations, schools, inpatient psychiatric units, Veterans homes, nursing homes, and hospice. Music therapy interns have the opportunity to collaborate with other healthcare professionals like doctors, nurses, counselors, social workers, chaplains, occupational and physical therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, art therapists, teachers, etc.
Pass the board certification exam
After completing 1040 clinical intern hours a music therapist can sit for the board certification exam. A music therapist must be fully licensed to practice in the United States. Once the music therapist has passed their exam, they receive the title, Music Therapist-Board Certified or MT-BC. This license must be maintained by obtaining 100 continuing education hours every five years.
Before journeying to become a music therapist, I would consider seeking out local music therapists and ask if you can shadow for a day. Music therapy is something people can describe with words, but to feel music therapy happening is something completely different. When you experience a music therapist help someone get their pain and heartrate under control by using musical entrainment, that is a wow moment, or when you experience a music therapist captivate a room of 5 year olds with various disabilities to help them learn new life skills, or when you have the privilege of watching a skilled therapist help a family shift from being highly tense and anxious to finding joy in simple moments of singing together and holding one another close–That’s the good stuff. This is a field that is highly experiential, so go experience it first-hand. You can find local music therapists by going to the CBMT website and searching your state.
You can also learn more about music therapy by visiting the AMTA website.