Music Therapist: Career and Income Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue as a music therapist. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Music Therapist Do?

Music therapists are clinicians who treat medical conditions such as brain injury, emotional disorders, and cancer using various forms and genres of music to bring about health benefits. Music therapy may involve both playing and listening to music. Music therapists plan activities like song writing, music improvisation and receptive music listening. They can work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, nursing homes, day care treatment centers, halfway houses and more. They can also treat different populations of patients, including children, the elderly and patients with specific conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease. See the table below for more information about this career:

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Education Field of StudyMusic therapy
Key ResponsibilitiesDevelop music-based treatment plans for the clinical needs of a particular patient; assess patients' psychological functioning, abilities, interests, and concerns; monitor patient reactions to treatment; prepare written reports documenting patient progress; collaborate with other healthcare professionals regarding patient treatment; facilitate patient expression via music
CertificationRequired
Job Growth (2014-2024)12%* for all recreation therapists
Median Salary (2016)$40,295** for music therapists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What Is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is a clinical practice where a trained therapist uses music to treat medical conditions, including brain injury, mental illness and depression (musictherapy.org). Music therapy is used in mental hospitals and cancer wards as well as with patients suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer's and autism. It can also treat chronic pain, insomnia and is sometimes used to ease childbirth. The American Cancer Society reports that music therapy may reduce vomiting and nausea after chemotherapy and aid cancer patients with relaxation, comfort and pain management (www.cancer.org).

How Does Music Therapy Work?

The Center for Music Therapy explains that music helps reroute brain waves, increasing the capabilities of patients with limited functionality (centerformusictherapy.com). Music has also been shown to lower blood pressure, increase positive brain hormones and promote social interaction. Music therapists further create exercises designed for encouraging rehabilitative movement, establishing communication patterns with non-verbal patients and building cognitive skills such as memory retention (www.musictherapy.com).

What Would I Do?

As a music therapist, you will work with a traditional health care provider to supplement an existing therapy program. In either group therapy sessions or one-on-one counseling, you will assist patients in creating music, analyzing lyrics or in lyrical self-expression. You may also create simple songs and lead patients through rudimentary movement or audience participation exercises. It is not necessary for patients to have musical ability.

What Education Would I Need?

To be a music therapist, you must first have a bachelor's degree in music therapy. A number of schools offer this degree, including the oldest programs at Michigan State University and the University of Kansas. You must then pass a certification exam offered through the American Music Therapy Association. You will then become a Music Therapist, Board Certified (MT-BC) and must get recertified every 5 years. If you have a bachelor's degree in another field, you must still complete a music therapy program in order to sit for the exam (www.cmbt.org).

What Other Skills Do I Need?

Music therapists are part-musician, part-therapist. You must be able to sing, play piano or guitar and be naturally caring and patient. Many of your patients will be mentally or physically handicapped, struggling with age-related degenerative conditions or undergoing severe trauma.

How Much Would I Make?

PayScale.com reports that as of October 2016, most music therapists in the United States earned between $29,752 and $70,615 a year, including bonuses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the projected growth rate for recreational therapists, which includes music therapists, is 12% (faster than average) between 2014 and 2024. According to the American Medical Association, the field of alternative health is growing, and music therapy jobs are seeing an increase in openings and opportunities (www.ama-assn.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One related career is a special education teacher. These professionals need a bachelor's degree, and also work with people of varying disabilities. However, they focus on helping physically, mentally or emotionally disabled students learn basic educational skills. This requires them to adapt lesson plans, work with students one-on-one and monitor the progress of their students. One may also be interested in becoming a different kind of recreational therapist, as opposed to a music therapist. Recreational therapists coordinate a wide variety of activities for their patients, such as arts and crafts, sports and games, aquatics, drama and more.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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