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What degree do I need to be a Music Therapist?

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Prior to addressing the captioned question, we must pose the question: do you play a musical instrument? If not, then you may be limited in attending a college/university approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).  Also, you may have to demonstrate your ability to play the instrument at the school’s audition before being accepted into their music therapy program. AMTA defines music therapy as: “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program”. A  professional music therapist can apply appropriate music as a cognitive/behavioral approach to affect specific behaviors for  therapeutic applications.

A professional music therapist holds a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of over 70 AMTA approved college and university programs. The curriculum for the bachelor’s degree is designed to impart entry level competencies in three main areas: musical foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy foundations and principles as specified in the AMTA Professional Competencies. In addition to the academic coursework, the bachelor’s degree requires 1200 hours of clinical training, including a supervised internship. All degrees are offered on-campus at the undergraduate level.  One school, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (SMWC), located in Boulder, Colorado, offers only a Master of Arts in Music Therapy online. For the complete list of AMAT-approved schools, please visit their site.

One avenue towards this type of therapy is to attend a school offering a Bachelor of Music Therapy, for example, the one at Florida State University College of Music. Their on-campus program is a total of 123 credits. Another example is Arizona State University who offers a Bachelor of Music Therapy (BMUS) designed to prepare students for a career in the health care and special education professions. ASU’s curriculum covers subjects as: human anatomy, psychology, world music, and music improvisation.

However, you can qualify to become a music therapist even if your undergrad major is not in this discipline. This is done through a music therapy equivalency program of which a limited number of AMTA-approved schools offer. Students who have a degree in education or psychology with a minor in music or a strong background in music may be eligible. SMWC, mentioned above, also offers a Music Therapy Equivalency Distance program also.  Applicants must already have a bachelor’s degree in music and be proficient on voice and at least one accompanying instrument. Students interested in the psychology route should read our article on the fastest online bachelor’s degrees.

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences School of Music also offers an equivalency program  for those persons who already hold an undergraduate degree, most typically in music performance or music education. For most students with an undergraduate degree in music, the equivalency program requires 3 semesters of on-campus study (may be part-time enrollment for the third semester, depending on analysis of the transcripts), followed by a 6-month required internship off campus. The student is then eligible to sit for the national examination in music therapy offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CMBT). The Music Therapist Board-Certified  (MT-BC) receives a certificate from CBMT that indicates valid board certification for five years.

There are alternatives for students who fall short of in the musical aptitude category, but want to enter the field of therapy or counseling. We recommend reading our article on what degree is needed to be a Mental Health Counselor for further information. As well as our Top 20 Online Master’s degrees in Mental Health Counseling sheds light on what to expect academically in this career field.

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