Carla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC
So You Want to be a Music Therapist
I still remember the first time I heard the phrase "music therapy." I was at my town library, trying to figure out a topic for the upcoming high school science fair. (There was no internet at the time. In order to find out about stuff, you went to the library. I know, crazy times).
Scrolling through articles on microfiche, I came across a study about classical music and spatial reasoning skills. That seemed interesting, so I kept exploring until I found an article that mentioned a profession called music therapy. I knew right away what I wanted to do with my life.
Already in the midst of college applications, I realized that a degree in music therapy was not offered at any of the schools I was considering, so I started applying to colleges that had that major.
Four years later, I received my undergraduate degree from the College of Wooster, did my clinical training at Hospice of Palm Beach County (now Trustbridge), and passed my board certification exam. After receiving my credential (MT-BC), I was offered a full-time job at the same organization where I completed my internship. I ended up working there for 12 years as a hospice music therapist and later internship director and manager. During this time, I also enrolled in a low residency, distance learning program to obtain my master’s degree in music therapy from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College.
My path to music therapy was just one of several ways to become credentialed in this growing field. While it is a challenging profession in many ways, there are also immense rewards and meaning to be found in this work. In 2017, Forbes called music therapy one of the Most Meaningful College Majors. If you are interested in exploring music therapy as a career option, I have answered some frequently asked questions below:
What training is required to become a music therapist?
Music therapy is an allied health profession that requires a degree in music therapy from an accredited university program, along with the completion of an approved 1,000 hour clinical internship, followed by passage of a national certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.
Where do you find a degree program and what are the requirements?
There are over 75 colleges and universities in the United States that offer a degree in music therapy. Unfortunately, none of these are in Maine, but New England schools include Berklee College of Music, Anna Maria College, and Lesley University.
A music therapy degree provides students with a foundation in general music skills, clinical and research competencies, and music therapy principles. It includes coursework in psychology, anatomy, social and behavioral sciences, along with music therapy theory and applications.
Students gain practical experience through clinical rotations in a variety of settings and learn how to conduct assessments, develop treatment plans, and evaluate and document changes. For more information, along with a map of education options for both high school and returning students, visit the American Music Therapy Association.
What music skills do you need to be a music therapist?
Strong music skills are central to the practice of music therapy. Therapists must be proficient in voice, guitar, piano, and percussion instruments. The ability to improvise, compose and adapt simple songs, transpose, and sight read are also important.
What other skills are important?
As with all helping professions, a desire to work closely with people, strong listening skills, and excellent communication skills are important for music therapists. Music therapists need to balance scientific principles and clinical knowledge with empathy, flexibility, and creativity. Different work settings and client populations require additional skills, such as the ability to work as part of a healthcare team, strong professional boundaries, or additional training in specialty areas.
How do I learn more?