A music therapist uses music to help patients cope with mental health and behavioral issues. Typical music therapy sessions involve playing instruments, creating music, and listening or dancing to music. Earning a master's in music therapy is not required to practice, but may qualify individuals for career advancement opportunities. Read on to learn more about degree programs and the benefits of working as a music therapist.
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Why Get a Master's Degree in Music Therapy?
Earning a master's degree broadens the depth of a therapist's clinical skills and may qualify them for management positions. Practicing as a music therapist offers several benefits, including the following.
Deepens Your Knowledge of Music Therapy and Psychology
Through advanced courses, a master's in music therapy builds on the introductory courses students take during bachelor's programs. Master's courses deepen student knowledge of theory, research, and clinical practice.
Increases Your Salary Potential
Earning a master's degree develops high-level skills that may qualify graduates for advanced positions, such as supervisor, administrator, or teacher. Because these positions come with more responsibility, they typically offer higher salaries than regular counselor jobs.
Prepares You for Leadership Positions in the Field
A master's program moves individuals beyond introductory knowledge of theories and treatment methods. This qualifies them for responsibilities like training therapists, managing personnel, and developing therapy programs. These types of positions include supervisor, administrator, or teacher.
Example Courses in a Music Therapy Master's Program
A master's degree in music therapy aims to build on the skills gained through a bachelor's degree. Master's curricula emphasize music therapy's role in clinical situations. For instance, courses may explore music's role in an educational setting, a nursing home, or a group session at a rehabilitation center. Other topics include methods of assessment, research, and program evaluation. Most programs include an internship, practicum, or thesis requirement.
Curriculum and internship requirements for a music therapy degree vary by program. Below is a list of five common courses students may encounter as they research master's programs.
Foundations of Advanced Music Therapy
This course challenges students to assess their own professional awareness, knowledge, and skills through the lens of professional standards. Other topics include a breakdown of job responsibilities, the history of music therapy, assessment, and group techniques. Throughout the course, student involvement with the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) is encouraged.
Improvisation for Therapy
This course examines the various improvisational styles and techniques used in music and how they can apply to counseling. Students explore and practice improvising melody, harmony, and rhythm. A few common techniques include pentatonic, rhythmic, and harmonic improvisation. Most courses focus on singing, drums, guitar, and piano, but instruments can vary by program.
Music Therapy Research and Program Evaluation
This class provides a comprehensive overview of research styles, including quantitative and qualitative techniques. Coursework aims to help students develop strong research skills and a thesis proposal, which is a requirement in many master's programs. The course also explores program evaluation, focusing on identifying potential issues and proposing changes to create more effective programs.
Technological Applications in Music Therapy
Students explore methods of using music technology in clinical practice. The curriculum provides an overview of common recording equipment and software to train students on recording and manipulating digital audio. Students may also learn the basic principles of setting up equipment for live usage to effectively record sessions.
Advanced Music Therapy Clinical Practice
This course explores a variety of creative and improvisational music therapy techniques and how they apply in different clinical settings. Throughout the course, students review research literature and readings, participate in class discussions, and practice applying concepts in simulated situations. The course emphasizes training students to translate research into clinical practice as counselors.
Exact internship requirements vary widely by program. Students should expect to complete a minimum of 180 hours at an approved facility, such as a hospital, school, or rehabilitation center. An internship gives students the opportunity to apply course concepts to practical clinical situations, where they can practice their skills, analyze programs, and learn to treat patients more effectively.
Some master's programs allow students to use previous internship experience to count towards the internship requirement, but others do not. CBMT allows students to use hours completed through a master's program toward the 1,040 clinical hour requirement for certification.
Universities typically earn either regional or national accreditation. To receive accreditation, universities submit program details to the appropriate accrediting agency. If curricula meet established standards, schools earn accreditation. Schools must undergo periodic review to maintain their accreditation status.
To qualify to work as a music therapist and sit for the certification exam through CBMT, students must graduate from an accredited university. Their program must also be approved by AMTA. Students can search the AMTA website to find qualifying programs.
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Music Therapy?
Graduates with a master's in music therapy qualify for supervisory positions related to counseling. This may entail managing personnel and developing music therapy programs. These roles exist in a variety of settings, including in hospitals, private practice, nursing homes, and community health clinics. A master's also qualifies graduates to become board certified through CBMT. Earning a credential demonstrates competence in the skills necessary to work as a therapist.
Common Work Environments
- Private practice
- Community health clinics
- Senior or nursing home
Career Advancement in Music Therapy
If You Haven't Already, Get Certified and Licensed
Professional music therapists must obtain the music therapist - board certified (MT-BC) certification through CBMT. To qualify for the exam, individuals must graduate from an AMTA-approved program. The exam consists of 150 multiple choice questions and is administered by computer. The exam costs $325. Individuals retaking the exam must pay the exam fee each time.
Professionals must renew their MT-BC credentials every five years. To qualify for renewal, candidates must complete 100 recertification credits and submit documentation to CBMT. Individuals earn credits by completing CBMT-approved continuing education courses. Certified therapists should consult CBMT's recertification manual for specific details.
The following states require music therapists to earn additional certification:
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
To earn state certification in these states, prospective music therapists must submit an application, test scores, and proof of their MT-BC certifications. Fees and recertification requirements vary by state, so individuals should consult their state's governing agency for detailed information.
Pursue a Doctorate Program in Music Therapy
Whether or not to pursue a Ph.D in music therapy depends on an individual's career goals. Doctorate programs focus on developing competency in research, theory, and program development. This typically leads to careers in teaching or research to advance the field of music therapy. This path may prove ideal for students wanting to work outside of the clinic or for students with a desire to develop or enhance current music therapy practices and theories.
Join A Professional Organization
A professional organization offers members access to educational resources and industry-related journals or newsletters. They often host conferences or webinars, giving music therapists the opportunity to collaborate with peers and learn about industry trends.
- American Music Therapy Association An organization focusing on the advancement of education, professional standards, training, and research in music therapy, AMTA offers several online and print publications, annual conferences, continuing education courses, and policy and credentialing information.
- Institute for Music and Neurologic Function A nonprofit agency working to advance the field of clinical music therapy treatment through research and education, IMNF offers training programs and links users with the latest industry information.
- International Society for Music Education ISME aims to promote the field of music therapy by maintaining a network of professionals and promoting music education around the world. It hosts an annual conference and publishes several industry journals detailing the latest research and trends in music therapy.
- National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations NCCATA is a coalition of membership organizations focused on advancing the fields of music, art, and drama therapy. The site links professionals to research and publications. NCCATA hosts several conferences each year.
- World Federation of Music Therapy A nonprofit organization committed to enhancing professional standards, encouraging research, and disseminating the latest information on credentialing and policies for its members, the federation also provides access to educational resources, publications, events, and job boards.