Professional certification, along with licenses in the states that choose to require them, is what establishes professional standards of practice in a field. Without having these credentials in place, anyone could declare themselves music therapists, even without having real education or experience in the field, and provide substandard services to paying clients and health insurance companies. In the clinical practice of music therapy, as opposed to certain related fields such as art therapy, there is only one level of professional certification available: board certification. Becoming board-certified is a process that incorporates education, hands-on clinical experience, and a national certification exam. In addition to professional certification, you may need to meet state licensure requirements to be allowed to practice.

What Certifications Do You Need to Become a Music Therapist?

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Board Certification in Music Therapy

Since 1983, the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) has been the organization that awards the professional credential required across the United States to work in this area of clinical practice. The CBMT itself is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. More than 8,383 music therapists have met the CBMT’s standards of education and clinical experience and passed a certification exam to earn the Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) designation. Those standards include earning a bachelor’s degree in music therapy and completing coursework in clinical, musical and music therapy foundations in line with the professional competencies set by the American Music Therapy Association. A minimum of 1,200 hours of clinical training experience, including a supervised internship completed during their undergraduate degree program, is also essential.

Board certification isn’t a one-time accomplishment. After practitioners acquire the credential, they must take action to maintain their status, including undergoing a recertification process every five years. The recertification process ensures that music therapists keep up to date with the latest research and developments in the field and provide their clients with the best evidence-based therapy services.

To achieve recertification, music therapists can obtain 100 recertification credits through various forms of continuing education, professional development and professional service opportunities that include graduate coursework, workshops and self-study programs.

The CBMT Board Certification Examination

Every music therapist qualified and credentialed to work in clinical practice must earn a passing score on an exam designed to test their professional knowledge. That test, called the CBMT Board Certification Examination, encompasses 150 total questions, although only 130 questions are scored. Students have three hours to finish this exam, which consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. More than half of the scored exam questions fit into the category of treatment implementation and termination, while queries related to referral, assessment and treatment planning accounting for almost a third of the graded questions. Items testing candidates’ knowledge of documentation and evaluation of treatment and professional development and responsibilities round out the exam content.

The exam has a reasonable pass rate, with 74 percent of test-takers succeeding in their first attempt. Certain music therapy programs boast exceptional pass rates as high as in the mid-90s percentile. However, preparing for the exam is crucial. Although there are different methods applicants can use to study for the test, taking the BMT Self-Assessment Examination – which must be purchased separately from the regular examination and processing fees – is the most highly recommended form of exam preparation.

Although music therapy students can begin the exam application process while still in school, they can’t take the test until they have finished all of their degree requirements – academic and experiential in nature.

State Licensure Requirements for Music Therapists

Although the Music Therapist – Board Certified credential is recognized across the United States, different states have different licensing requirements. States that have established some form of licensing requirement include Connecticut, Georgia, New York, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Wisconsin. Some states’ requirements mirror those of the CBMT, while others are more rigorous and may include a graduate school education.

Not every mental health professional who uses music therapy in their clinical practice is a credentialed and state-licensed music therapist. Counselors and therapists in other fields of practice may also choose to incorporate music into their therapeutic interventions. These counselors typically meet other licensing and certification requirements, holding titles such as Licensed Professional Counselor.

Post-graduate certificates in music therapy often complement a professional counselor’s existing graduate-level education with classes in music therapy theories and methods as well as clinical experience opportunities.

Additional Resources

Do You Need Clinical Experience to Become a Music Therapist?

What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy?

What Classes Will I Have to Take for a Degree in Music Therapy?