While a doctoral degree is necessary for some careers in mental health treatment, such as psychologist and psychiatrist, it’s not mandatory for music therapists. In fact, so few practicing music therapists hold this highly advanced degree that a doctorate isn’t even in the top three most popular educational options in the field. A Ph.D. usually won’t help you if your goal is to earn more money or expand your job opportunities in clinical practice, but it is valuable if you want to contribute to the development of the field of music therapy through research.

Music Therapy Ph.D.s By the Numbers

The American Music Therapy Association reported that just 5.6 percent of members who responded to the organization’s 2018 workforce survey hold a doctorate. Among the small population of members with doctoral degrees, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees accounted for 80 percent of doctoral degrees. An important fact to note is that not all members of the American Music Therapy Association are practicing music therapists. Membership also includes former music therapists who have shifted careers or retired, students of music therapy and associates who, for professional and personal reasons, have an interest in supporting the organization and keeping abreast of music therapy topics.

Small numbers of respondents reported holding Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.), Doctor of Arts (DA), Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and Doctor of Health Science (D.H.Sc.) degrees. The fact that many of these doctoral degrees are in other areas of health, art or education show the connections between music therapy and these related fields. Some workers start out in music therapy and find that their career path takes them into a different arena, while others incorporate the theories and practices of music therapy into their work in other fields.

To put this figure in perspective, 48.5 percent of survey respondents have a bachelor’s degree, 41.8 percent have a master’s degree and 4.2 percent – primarily current undergraduate students of music therapy – have not yet earned a degree.

Is There a Financial Payoff of a Ph.D. for Music Therapists?

If you assume that a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree will raise your earning potential in the field of music therapy, you may be disappointed. The American Music Therapy Association’s survey showed little difference between salaries for music therapists with a doctorate and those with less education. In fact, the average salary for music therapists with a doctoral degree is slightly lower than that for music therapists with just bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and the upper end of the salary range for these workers was well below that of bachelor’s and master’s degree holders.

The salary seen most often among music therapists with doctoral degrees is $10,000 higher than that of bachelor’s degree holders but identical to that of master’s degree holders. Only in the category of median salary did music therapists with a doctorate report the highest wages. Even in this category, the difference is small, just $500 more than the median wage for workers with a master’s degree and $1,000 more than that reported with a bachelor’s degree.

If you’re looking purely at the financial data, earning a Ph.D. is not worthwhile for most music therapists. You will spend much more money to earn your doctorate – not to mention the opportunity cost of the time you will spend on this endeavor – than you are likely to recoup from having an advanced degree.

Competitive tuition rates for doctoral programs in music therapy can easily cost more than $1,000 per credit for in-state tuition or up to $1,500 per credit out of state – with many programs requiring up to 44 credits beyond the master’s degree.

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

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Coursework in a Ph.D. Program in Music Therapy

Generally, doctoral programs in music therapy don’t focus on methods and applications of clinical practice the way bachelor’s and professional master’s degree programs do. Instead, they tend to emphasize advanced scholarship and quantitative and qualitative research for the purposes of advancing the field of music therapy as a whole, rather than your own individual career. Coursework may include studies in theory development as well as advanced research methods in music therapy and research in the related disciplines of music medicine and music psychotherapy.

Ph.D. programs in music therapy are really only a great fit for students who have a strong passion for learning for its own sake and an interest in contributing to the research that informs the development of evidence-based practices in the field.

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?

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