As you explore your options for an education in the field of music therapy, you might find it puzzling how many levels of study there are. In addition to bachelor’s and master’s degrees, you will find certificate programs at both the post-baccalaureate and post-master’s levels. While many of these programs have a broader audience, post-graduate certificate programs are a good option only for a specific population of students: practicing counselors and therapists.

The Intended Audience for Post-Graduate Music Therapy Studies

A post-graduate education is far from a requirement for practitioners in the field. In fact, the Certification Board for Music Therapists requires just a bachelor’s degree for eligibility to pursue the Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC) credential. You might wonder, then, why a student would choose to pursue not only a master’s degree but also a post-graduate certificate. Generally, post-master’s certificates in music therapy are designed for a specific audience: practicing counselors and therapists in general or specialized areas of mental health.

Music therapy is one of the few areas of mental health treatment that does not require a graduate degree, although there has been some pressure to increase the minimum educational requirements to work in the field, the Houston Chronicle reported. It’s no surprise, then, that established professionals in fields such as school counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, marriage and family therapy and counseling psychology usually hold at least a master’s degree. A master’s degree is the highest level of education reported for 93 percent of school counselors,  62 percent of mental health counselors and 30 percent of substance abuse counselors. Graduate school is also mandatory for marriage and family therapists, and most counseling psychologists need a doctorate. It’s because the student audience already has a graduate education under their belts, rather than because of any credentialing need or necessity for advanced coursework, that these programs of study are offered at the post-graduate level.

If you don’t yet have a master’s degree in counseling, a post-baccalaureate certificate or a master’s degree program in music therapy can help you become a music therapist. The American Music Therapy Association recognizes six educational paths into the career.

The Goals of Completing a Post-Master’s Certificate in Music Therapy

The students of a post-master’s certificate program in music therapy typically have one of two goals. Sometimes they want to shift careers from a different type of counseling role to a music therapist position. However, music therapist jobs aren’t nearly as plentiful as jobs in larger and more established counseling career fields. The Certification Board for Music Therapists recognizes just 8,383 music therapists who hold the MT-BC credential. In comparison, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recognizes 304,500 mental health and substance abuse counselors, 55,300 marriage and family therapists and 324,500 school and career counselors.

Who Should Consider a Post-Master’s Certificate in Music Therapy?

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Rather than leaving the relative stability of these larger occupational groups, for a much smaller occupation, many of these counselors would rather learn how to integrate music therapy into their existing practices. They may work for community organizations and clinics, private behavioral health agencies or their own private practices, but they recognize the value that these additional types of therapeutic interventions would hold for their clients.

There’s a considerable difference between a counselor encouraging a client to use music to cope – for example, by listening to soothing music to calm anxiety – and developing music-based activities as part of the client’s treatment plan.

A Post-Graduate Music Therapy Curriculum

Professional counselors are likely to already have a master’s degree that covers the basics of clinical foundations and practices. Instead of rehashing what the student already knows about counseling theories and practices in general, a post-graduate certificate will usually focus on more specialized knowledge in music and in the clinical practice of music therapy. Students may study topics such as clinical musicianship and improvisation, musical analysis and the use of music therapy theories and methods with different client populations, including individuals and groups at all ages and stages of development. Post-master’s certificate programs in music therapy are often lengthy, requiring three or more years of study, in part because of the demanding fieldwork requirements.

It’s beneficial for applicants to post-master’s music therapy programs to have some background in music, even if they don’t have a college degree in the subject. A musical audition is often part of the admissions requirements.

Additional Resources

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Music Therapist?

Are There 2-Year Degrees in Music Therapy? Are They Worth Getting?

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

Should I Get a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy?

Will a Ph.D. Help Me in the Field of Music Therapy?