Music therapist is an exciting career, but it also requires a lot from practitioners. Musical talent is important in this profession, but the career doesn’t focus on making beautiful music. Rather, it’s the importance of your desire to help others, along with the qualities like compassion and patience that enable you to do so, that will really determine your success in a role such as music therapist.
A Passion for Helping
The most important attribute in a music therapist is a desire to help other people become empowered and find emotional support, according to the American Music Therapist Association. Although music plays an integral part in the field, the goal of a music therapist isn’t about the music, but instead about using music as a therapeutic tool to help people.
Music therapy assists people with a wide variety of concerns, and many find specialized roles that allow them to work with the client populations whom they are most motivated to help. Although it has a place in wellness, self-development and personal growth, music therapists often provide services as prescribed by a physician for a physical or mental health reason, and they are part of a collaborative team of providers and practitioners caring for a patient.
The many types of client populations that can benefit from music therapy include patients undergoing cancer treatments, those who sustained a traumatic brain injury, individuals with disabilities, senior citizens who have developed memory problems, hospitalized children and individuals with mental health disorders. Some music therapists work in an outpatient setting with veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, others in hospital neonatal intensive care units, where doctors care for sick and premature newborns.
You might not know yet what work environments or client populations are a good fit for you. Throughout the clinical training required for a bachelor’s degree program in music therapy, you have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and find your niche.
Compassion and People Skills
Music therapy is a people-focused career, and you need strong people skills, not to mention a sense of empathy, to succeed in it. When you first meet a client, having a friendly and approachable nature and being able to approach situations with a relatable sense of humor can help you begin to build a therapeutic relationship. Over time, the patience, compassion and care that you show to clients help them develop trust in you and in the power of music as a tool for healing.
People don’t always behave as you might predict, and that includes their response to the treatment plans and activities you develop. Versatility is important because you often have to adjust your treatment plans and ideas for activities – sometimes with little notice. Sometimes this requires a lot of creative thinking and an ability to try new ideas and approaches, although those approaches shouldn’t dismiss the evidence-based aspects of music therapy as a clinical practice.
Having strong listening, speaking and writing skills is also important, because music therapists must communicate clearly not only with their clients but also with other members of a client’s treatment team.
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Naturally, you can’t be a good music therapist without having a great deal of musical ability. While you don’t need to have been born with perfect pitch or have an opera-worthy voice, you must be trained to play a number of different instruments with technical proficiency and should be an accomplished player of at least one instrument, which you will treat as your major instrument, or instrument of focus, during your college coursework.
Although other personal attributes may eclipse pure musical talent when it comes to predicting success in clinical practice. However, technical music skills are important enough that coursework in music foundations make up 45 percent of the curriculum in programs approved by the American Music Therapy Association. Generally, these classes include extensive coursework in your major instrument, participation in ensemble groups and sufficient coursework to develop functional proficiency in the use of guitar, piano and voice. Students of music therapy programs also study music theory and musicianship at increasing levels of difficulty as well as learning the skills to compose, arrange and conduct music.
Even before your college education begins, your music skills must be strong enough to perform well in an audition as part of the college admissions process.