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Music Therapist: Employment Info & Career Requirements

Besides having one's own practice, a music therapist might find employment in a patient care facility, rehab clinic, day care center, foster care facility, prison, or, most famously, camps for children with special needs. Read further to learn more details about this profession.

Career Definition for a Music Therapist

Music therapy is utilized to remedy illnesses of the mind, body, and spirit. Therapy might encompass singing, creating songs, or listening, dancing to, and discussing music with the patient, not to mention teaching him or her how to play instruments. A music therapist aims to positively impact a person's entire health holistically by reducing stress. Also, depending on the patient's illness or disability, therapy might be used to ameliorate his or her cognitive skills (by improving memory, for instance), heal physical pain, or reduce emotional trauma by getting him or her to express feelings.

Required Education A bachelor's degree that includes 1,200 clinical training hours
Job Duties Singing, creating songs; listening, dancing to, discussing music; teaching patients to play instruments
Median Salary (2016) $39,607 (music therapists)
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 12% growth (recreational therapists)

Source: PayScale.com and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) website, a 4-year bachelor's degree should comprise studies in music and music therapy, in addition to 1,200 hours of clinical training including field experience occurring within classes. The AMTA suggests this training should delve into psychopathology and human development, so courses in biological, behavioral, and social science as well as psychology will be in the curriculum, rounded out with general education studies. Once a prospective therapist graduates with a bachelor's degree, he or she can complete the Certification Board for Music Therapists examination for a credential.

Required Skills

The American Medical Association emphasizes that a therapist should be highly proficient in music. Indeed, the AMTA itself states that a musical audition must be passed for admission to any university's music therapy program. Music therapy demands, beyond musical talent, that a practitioner possess empathy and a desire, as in other therapeutic practices, to help people in need.

Income and Employment

According to PayScale.com, the annual median salary for music therapists is $39,607 as of January, 2016 (PayScale.com). The AMTA reported that in addition to more traditional uses for music therapy, therapists are now being employed by oncology treatment centers, hospice care centers, and even substance abuse programs. The growth in music therapy will open additional employment possibilities for individuals new to the field.

Alternate Career Options

Occupational Therapist

By earning at least a master's degree in occupational therapy along with state licensure, these professionals treat disabled or injured patients to help them improve, gain or recover skills. Much faster than average employment growth of 27% was expected by the BLS from 2014-2024, and an annual median salary of $80,150 was reported for occupational therapists as of 2015.

Recreational Therapist

Normally needing a bachelor's degree in recreational therapy or a similar field, these therapists plan and direct treatment programs for disabled, ill or injured patients, using recreation programs, such as dance, sports, drama and music. Certification is required by some employers, New Hampshire, Utah, Oklahoma and North Carolina require professional licensure.

Positions for recreational therapists were predicted to increase by 12% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS, which was as fast as the average for all occupations. In 2015, median wages of $45,890 per year were reported for recreational therapists by the BLS.


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