What is a Music Therapist?

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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2019
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A music therapist is a person with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in music therapy. The degree must be from a college approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Music therapists with the credential Music Therapist Board Certified (MT-BC) have passed an examination beyond the entry level bachelor's degree requirement. Music therapists work with people of all ages with learning, emotional, social, intellectual or psychological disorders to help them express themselves creatively through the power of music.

For example, some music therapists work in alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs to help substance abusers. This type of music therapist assists the patient in learning to play an instrument or in singing or writing songs in order to encourage a creative expression of feelings and introduce activities that help act as alternative choices to drug abuse. If a patient isn't interested in playing a musical instrument or in singing or song writing, then the therapist would likely have the patient explore listening to different types of music that the person finds to be uplifting or comforting.


The music used in music therapy doesn't necessary have to be cheerful. Some people find country music, such as Patsy Cline's song "Crazy" with its lyrics about broken hearts, comforting in a down to earth way, while others may prefer the upbeat, energetic instrumentals of a Dixieland jazz band. We can better understand the concept of music therapy if we think of songs or types of music that we find healing in some way or that just seem to comfort us when we're feeling sad. For instance, a song such as The Foundation's 1968 chart topper "Build Me Up, Buttercup" may be appealing to different people for different reasons since the melody is uplifting yet the lyrics express frustrations in a love relationship.

Understanding what type of music and activities would best help each patient and using that information to develop individualized therapy goals is a music therapist's main concern. A music therapist must plan a course of music therapy with each patient's capabilities, interests and particular challenge or disorder in mind. For example, for someone with a shyness problem, the goal of the music therapy may be to help the patient learn to interact with others. This may be accomplished by having the patient be part of a musical group.

It's important to realize that a music therapist is not a career coach for those interested in music careers. While music therapists understand music and certainly are likely to encourage patients with a talent to pursue whatever musical activities they like, the main goal of music therapy is to help the patient heal emotionally or psychologically. Music therapists must keep track of their patients' progress and make any needed adjustments to therapy programs so that the patients' health and wellness are always considered.


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There is also an alternative route to obtaining a Bachelor of Music Therapy. If one already has a degree in another field, one can complete the course work and be able to sit for the certification exam. A six month internship is also part of the training and one can sit for the exam upon completion of the internship.

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