Music Therapist

music therapy

The Greeks claimed that astronomy and music were two sides of the same coin: astronomy being the relationship between observable, permanent, external objects, and music being the relationship between invisible, internal, hidden objects. They said that music discovers these big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls, helping us figure out the position of things inside of us.

Karl Paulnack, division director of The Boston Conservatory, told this to incoming freshman at the Conservatory a number of years ago. He was speaking to student musicians, but his speech, entitled “The Power of Music” applies – and probably with more relevance – to those musicians who go on to study music as therapy, turning their love of music and its healing properties into a music therapy career.

Music therapists today qualify the Greek’s prescient observation, noting that not only does music find and move pieces of our hearts and souls, but our psyches as well.

But whether music affects the heart, soul, psyche, or all three, is no longer questioned. The field of music therapy has showed, through numerous empirical studies, that the Greeks were correct. Music is powerful, as powerful as astronomy, and as important as the sun, stars and planets to our existence. Why? Because music helps us figure ourselves out.

Music Therapists as Spiritual Chiropractors

Paulnack told the group that musicians aren’t really entertainers, but “therapists for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they can get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.”

Certainly Paulnack, a professional pianist who has traveled the world performing with the world’s top musicians, understands music’s force for good, personal growth, and change.

It’s also no coincidence that the field of music therapy attracts musicians to the career. Before studying the empirical evidence proving the effectiveness of music as therapy, musicians know on an intuitive, personal level, the impact that music makes on themselves, others, and communities around the world. They know that music therapy is medicine, sometimes more effective than the strongest prescription or antidote for lessening pain, discomfort, depression, anxiety or a number of other illnesses and mental health disorders.

Music Therapists as Trained Professionals

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapists apply therapeutic musical interventions to address physical, psychological, cognitive, and the social needs of individuals.

“After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, the client’s abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of his or her life,” the AMTA website states.

The trained music therapist assesses clients within the context of their individual circumstances and health needs. A therapist working in a hospice, for example, will apply musical interventions that ease end-of-life pain, fear, sleeplessness, anticipatory grief, and restlessness. Other music therapists working in drug rehabilitation facilities help clients deal not only with physical withdrawal symptoms, but the spiritual and psychological pain that contribute to the addictions.

And those who work with individuals suffering from motor and impulse disorders can use melody and rhythm interventions to overcome or live more comfortably with these disorders.

The Music Therapist uses Music to Achieve the Following:

  • Facilitate movement and aid in overall physical rehabilitation.
  • Motivate people to cope with treatment and pain.
  • Provide emotional support for clients and their families
  • Provide a way of expressing thoughts, feelings and emotions that clients are unable to express verbally.

Holistically Healthy

Traditional healthcare facilities and programs were the first to employ music therapists, but now as the nation’s emphasis on the mind-body connection and alternative approaches to medicine grows, so do the opportunities for those with music therapy careers.

Music therapists are now found working in oncology treatment centers, pain and stress clinics, correctional facilities, hospice care, and substance abuse and addiction facilities and organizations. School districts also employ music therapists to work with children with a range of social and emotional disorders, mental illness, and special education needs. And, with more U.S. citizens living longer, aging programs and services also now hire music therapists.

How to Become a Music Therapist

Music therapists are musicians as well as therapists, so a background in and love of music are essential for this career, states the AMTA website and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But it also stresses that those seeking a career in this field have a genuine interest in people and a desire to help others empower themselves.

According to the AMTA, A Music Therapist Should Possess

  • empathy
  • patience
  • creativity
  • imagination
  • an openness to new ideas
  • an understanding of oneself

After completing an approved college music therapy program (including an internship), music therapy candidates are eligible to sit for the national examination offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Passing the national examination provides individuals with the music therapist-board certified credential (MT-BC).

If you are a musician, have a desire to work with people, helping them discover the “hidden, invisible sections of themselves,” in order to heal, grow, and live well, request information from a school offering a degree in music therapy.


Recreational Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,

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