Music Therapist

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Music Therapist


For some people, creative expression is the best way to represent emotion and feelings. From Beethoven to the Beatles, all musicians are inspired in some way by emotion or feeling when singing, songwriting and composing music. It has been said that music therapy can make the difference between withdrawal and awareness, between chronic pain and comfort and between demoralization and dignity. Music therapists understand that there is a definite healing power in music -- whether it is a four-year-old's rendition of "Old MacDonald had a Farm" to a cancer patient's final sonata. They help clients restore health and balance to the mind and body through the structured use of music, such as singing and spontaneous composition.

Music therapists provide special services for people with psychiatric disorders, mental retardation and developmental disabilities, speech and hearing impairments, physical disabilities, and neurological impairments. They are usually members of an interdisciplinary team who support the goals and objectives for each client within the context of the music therapy setting. Clinical work involves preparing, implementing, and evaluating music therapy programs with individuals and groups. A music therapist will study a patient's medical records to properly assess the situation objectively and based on this information, the music therapist formulates specific long-term goals for the individual.

Music therapists employ several different types of techniques: singing, instrument playing, rhythmic movement, improvisation, composition, and listening. Singing can be used to help people with speech impairments improve their articulation, rhythm, and breath control. Playing instruments can improve gross and fine motor coordination in individuals with motor impairments. Improvisation encourages spontaneity and offers a creative, non-verbal means of expressing feelings. It also helps the therapist to establish a bond of trust with a person and serves as a useful assessment technique.

Composing, for adults with a terminal illness, is a vehicle for examining feelings about meaning in life and death, while creating a legacy to leave behind for loved ones. Listening to music also has many therapeutic applications. For example, a patient with Down's syndrome may develop cognitive skills such as attention and memory, invoking associations. Also, songs may help elderly people remember significant events in their lives, which they may then share with others.

Music therapy is a type of psychotherapy attempting to reconcile emotional conflict and promote personal growth. Therefore, clients need no prior musical talent or background to participate in this process. Instead, the therapy is designed to facilitate a line of communication between the patient and the therapist and enhance verbal therapy. Through a creative process, the music therapist seeks to help a troubled soul deal with a physical, emotional or psychological problem.

The therapist allows the individual to choose from a variety of musical media, such as playing an instrument to rhythmic movement to music. These creative acts are intended to musicalize repressed thoughts and feelings related to conflicts, traumatic experiences, fantasies, dreams, self-image, and patterns of relationships with others.

Music therapy is also very effective for people with AIDS, cancer or other chronic illnesses along with sufferers of emotional or physical trauma, abuse or addiction. Clients with life threatening diseases or emotional disorders are encouraged to explore the anguish they are feeling through music. Since some situations are too difficult for people to express emotion, music therapy provides these people with confidence and acts as a reminder of happier times.
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  Interests and Skills  
Music therapists must be enthusiastic, creative and always work with a non-judgmental attitude. Since their work is quite experimental in comparison with more conventional types of therapy, they must help their patients believe that using a creative side of their personality will help them heal. Music therapists need strong communication and interpersonal skills, and flexibility and a tolerance for ambiguity. Finally, they enjoy working with people, and designing and implementing innovative therapy programs that use the principles of musical therapy techniques.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Organize and direct medically prescribed music therapy activities as part of mental and physical health care and treatment
  • Assess a client's needs and strengths and identify specific treatment goals and objectives
  • Collaborate with other therapists in planning music activities for a patients' physical or psychological needs and interests
  • Develop treatment plans using individualized needs assessment, depending on focus of therapy
  • Direct and participate in instrumental and vocal music activities designed to meet patients' physical or psychological needs, such as singing, rhythmic activities, music listening, or attending concerts
  • Instruct patients in prescribed instrumental or vocal music and music projective techniques, such as guided imagery, progressive relaxation, and awareness of conscious feelings
  • Analyze patients' reactions to various experiences
  • Prepare reports describing symptoms indicative of progress or regression
  • Evaluate the program's effectiveness on an ongoing basis and adjust programs as needed based on individual need
  • Music therapists generally work standard office hours in traditional placement settings but may work in private practices that allow them a more flexible working schedule. However, those in private practices may work some evenings and weekends to accommodate clients' schedules. All therapies require a specific, safe environment, especially so that patients feel comfortable.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Music therapists work in rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, schools, prisons and other correctional facilities, private practices, community mental health facilities, senior's centers and homes, day-care centers, and counseling centers and clinics.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for music therapists? They can move into related health fields, such as counseling, art therapy, day care and other mental health professions such as psychology. They may also work at group homes or at camps for people with special needs. Those with further education can also teach music therapy at the college and university level.

  Educational Paths  
Although there is no required educational path one must take to become a music therapist, most have a bachelor's degree or equivalent training and experience, coupled with a background and training in music. For example, most music therapists are musicians themselves in some medium, such as singing or piano playing, and may have a background teaching music or in counseling or psychology.

Through university music departments, students can obtain a master's degree in music therapy and complete a certain number of hours of study coupled with an internship. This includes weekly group supervision with a registered therapist.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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