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The Music Therapy Profession

Music therapy is a health discipline, one that has several decades of research to back up its effectiveness. One of the goals of the American Music Therapy Association is to make people aware. According to AMTA Director of Government Relations, Judy Simpson, some people don't realize that people earn degrees in music therapy or that they complete internships.

Sure, many people experience a “feel good” response to music, but there are more tangible benefits for those who are ill, weakened, or have neurological dysfunction. Musical rhythms can help a person with Parkinson's walk better. Music can improve cognitive function in individuals with developmental disability or dementia. It can also promote physical health, in some instances, decreasing the need for medication.

AMTA seeks to ensure that the public knows who is qualified to practice music therapy. AMTA has set educational standards for programs at the baccalaureate and graduate levels. The Certification Board for Music Therapists, meanwhile, certifies individuals who meet standards in all areas, including supervised practice.

Music Therapy Training

Music therapy is focused on diverse goals, both physical and neurological. Music therapists can be found in at least one place one doesn't routinely see other arts therapists: the neonatal ward.

Music therapists typically enter the field with baccalaureate level education. Often music therapists work with the same populations that other arts therapists do. However, their treatment goals are apt to be different. Simpson estimates that only about 20% of music therapy is focused on mental health; psychotherapeutic application is not a curriculum emphasis at the undergraduate level.

Approximately 1/3 of music therapists do go on to pursue a master's degree. Some therapists pursue their master's in music therapy and develop expertise in working with particular populations. Others seek graduate degrees in mental health fields like counseling or social work.

With a master's in a mental health discipline, graduates often become candidates for state licensure – not necessarily in music therapy per se, but in a related discipline. Licensing is not the only way to have services reimbursed, however. Some music therapy is funded through health services, some through educational services. A doctor may prescribe music therapy; there should be documentation that the therapy is integral to treatment. Medicare, private insurance companies, and state agencies have different reimbursement policies.

Some practitioners even get doctoral degrees. Such training can be pursued in combination with training in other disciplines.

Advocating for the Profession

Music therapy advocacy has taken a different approach than that of art or dance therapy. The focus is not necessarily on getting professionals licensed but on ensuring that individuals have access to needed services. A majority of states have AMTA task forces. A frequent AMTA goal is to gain recognition for the certification process.

A few states do license or register music therapists. In Nevada, board certified music therapists can go through a state licensing process.

In Wisconsin, music therapists can be recognized at either of two practice levels. They need a national credential for registration. With a master's, they can be licensed to practice psychotherapy in conjunction with music therapy.

In New York, master's level creative arts therapists are licensed; the same license applies whether the training was in music therapy or in another discipline. In New York, an AMTA goal was to get clarification that music therapists could practice in settings like nursing homes and schools without having a state license. This goal was accomplished.

New York’s music therapy programs have transitioned to the master's level, and individuals who complete programs are on the path to licensure as creative arts therapists.

Professional Resources

AMTA does more than advocate for the profession at state and national levels. The organization also provides many resources for individual music therapists and students. There is an annual conference where professionals can network and attend workshops in areas of interest, whether it’s in applying music therapy to hospice care or making the most of apps and other new technologies.

Music therapy interns can request a Welcome to the Profession packets when they’re halfway through their internship. People who are just beginning to research the profession can stop by the AMTA site and find a number of resources, including bibliographies and fact sheets about the different applications of music therapy.