When you first have a music therapist join your child or loved one’s treatment team, you may find yourself wondering, “How does one even become a music therapist?” or “What does the training for a music therapist look like?”. That curiosity often goes unaddressed and remains a mystery as discussing patient progress in therapy sessions becomes the focus of the music therapist’s limited time with the parent or guardian of the patient. Rather than leave those questions unanswered, let’s shed some light on some little-known facts about your music therapist and their educational background.

We are classically trained musicians as well as clinicians.

Your music therapist may be playing music from eras gone by on the piano or beloved children’s songs all day on an acoustic guitar to address you or your loved ones treatment goals, but every therapist had a primary instrument of study as a music therapy major. Some music therapists may be vocalists primarily, while others may have studied piano, saxophone, harp, clarinet, or violin. Music therapists went through all of the classical training such as music theory and lessons that other music majors also had to study in addition to all of our specific music therapy courses and clinical hours. Ask your therapist what their main instrument of study was next time you see them, and you may just get serenaded!

Our initial training involves over 1200 patient contact hours.

In the same way that other therapy disciplines have practicum programs to get clinical experience, music therapists also undergo this process to have a chance to implement the techniques learned in their coursework with supervision. This not only means that your therapist is highly experienced with the diagnosis of your child or loved one, but also means that your music therapist has worked with all ages and diagnoses from autism to Alzheimer’s in their training process. This clinical training that music therapists complete also includes a six-month internship with a concentrated focus. These internships may take place in settings such as hospitals, outpatient clinics or school districts and are required to obtain our degree in music therapy.

We do paperwork and continuing education when we aren’t with patients.

Like other healthcare and therapeutic disciplines, music therapists have daily notes for each appointment as well as progress notes every quarter. Music therapists also write assessments and goals upon each patient’s  evaluation and track functional progress on those goals. Music therapists also have opportunities to attend national and regional music therapy conferences to earn credits towards their re-certification and stay current on strategies and research happening in the field. Some therapists even have extra certifications in concentrations such as Neurologic Music Therapy.

We learn from other music therapists!

Music therapists have the ability to write their own tunes and make their own session activities targeting functional goal outcomes, but we also don’t like to reinvent the wheel. Many music therapists publicly share their songs, activities, and the functional application of how they can be used to help meet client goals with other therapists. Music therapists also observe other therapists during their clinical training, and often learn techniques or songs from the hours spent in observation or in internships.

Music therapists go through clinical training like most therapy professions, as well as musical training like most music teaching and music performance professions. This well-rounded approach ensures that music therapists are clinically prepared to use their base of musical knowledge in a way that is functional and relevant to treatment and achieving goals. The hours we put in both during and after college keep us current on research and treatment methods and prepare us for a variety of clinical scenarios. Hopefully this helps to answer some questions for those who have wondered about music therapists education and clinical training.