• Who are Music Therapists?

    Posted on December 3, 2013 by Jessica Ryan in Miscellaneous.


    How would you define the term “music therapy”? The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines it as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”[i] That “credentialed professional” is, of course, a music therapist. But what credentials does someone need in order to become a music therapist? What “approved music therapy program” must he or she complete? Today we’ll clarify these phrases to help explain what makes someone a music therapist.


    Fiddlesticks, the PSO’s feline musical ambassador to children, and a Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Music Therapist, Nicole Steele, dance with a patient in the hospital’s Eat’n Park Atrium.

    First of all, in order to truly be considered a music therapist, an individual must earn at least a Bachelor’s degree in music therapy from a program approved by AMTA. In such programs, students take classes in areas like music, psychology, human development, and music therapy to hone both clinical and musical skills.[ii] They also complete 1200 hours of fieldwork, including a culminating internship. AMTA states that through this education, “Students learn to assess the needs of clients, develop and implement treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes.”[iii]

    Once aspiring music therapists have finished their degrees, they must pass a national exam given by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Only then can they practice with the designation of Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC). Every five years therapists must renew their certifications by either re-taking the exam or engaging in continuing education. In most states, you only need to look for the MT-BC designation to determine whether someone is qualified to be a music therapist, but North Dakota, Nevada, and Georgia recently passed laws requiring MT-BCs to become licensed in order to practice.

    To find a MT-BC near you, search the AMTA individual member directory or the use music therapist search feature on the CBMT website. While you can search by more criteria (e.g., ages served, populations served) on the AMTA website, only the CBMT website is guaranteed to have the most up-to-date information regarding certification status. If you are in the Pittsburgh area, feel free to ask us about our music therapist contacts as well. We’ll be happy to help you!

    That brings me to a special note about the PSO Music and Wellness Program. As our program name denotes, we have a “music and wellness” program—not a music therapy program. While our musicians are not MT-BCs, they do work under the guidance of MT-BCs to share their musical talents with audiences in healthcare facilities.

    One of our violists, Penny Brill, recently talked with me about the value of collaborating with music therapists. According to Penny, “Working with a music therapist in the hospital protects the patients, and the music therapist knows what the protocols are in the hospital. She can also watch the patients for signs of them getting tired or needing something more energetic, make suggestions to us, and ask leading questions so we optimize the experience. What we do best is guided by her questions and suggestions.” By collaborating with MT-BCs and capitalizing on their knowledge of patients and clinical skills, our musicians can use their excellent musical skills to effectively provide programs with therapeutic value to a wide variety of people in the Pittsburgh community.

    Thank you for reading this week’s blog post! If you haven’t already done so, please take last week’s poll to let us know what topics you’d like to see our blog cover in the new year. We’d love to hear your opinion so that we can ensure that we continue sharing useful information through Musical Living.

    [i] “What is Music Therapy?American Music Therapy Association.  American Music Therapy Association,  2013.   Web.  3 Dec. 2013.

    [ii] “A Career in Music Therapy.” American Music Therapy Association.  American Music Therapy Association,  2013.   Web.  3 Dec. 2013.

    [iii] “Education and Clinical Training Information.” American Music Therapy Association.  American Music Therapy Association,  2013.   Web.  3 Dec. 2013.

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2 Responses so far.

  1. Autumn says:

    This is such an excellent topic. Music is therapeutic for anyone at any age or ability level. CYM is holding a great informational Music Therapy workshop for families on December 14th with our own Kate Schneider, MT-BC. Come join us! http://cymtakenote.blogspot.com/2013/11/music-therapy-is-for-everyone-workshop.html

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