I am a board-certified music therapist who became a professor. I used to do more clinical work, using music to work with people with special needs, all ages and abilities. Now I mainly teach students how to do that, supervise their real-life experiences working with clients during the school year, and research what techniques and approaches work better for music therapists.
What does your work entail?
Most of my work is outside of the classroom, like any college student, really. We may get together twice a week for 50 minutes each (a 2 credit course), but I’m prepping a lecture, experience, or assessment (quiz or test) or grading for a few hours outside of that class. Most professors have teaching as a majority of their contract, but that also includes doing music therapy sessions in the community for free so students can observe and eventually learn to do some of the techniques they see me use with clients/patients. The rest of the time, I am reading research, preparing or conducting a research study, or serving on committees for the university or the American Music Therapy Association at the national or regional level.
What’s a typical work week like?
I like academia because every week is different and flexible. I don’t have to punch in and out on a clock. Obviously, class times are set, and times to see clients are pretty well set in the fall and spring semesters. But I can rearrange meetings outside of those set times, read research whenever I can, write papers, do grading, etc. whenever it fits my schedule, so there is no 9-5 feel to it.
How did you get started?
I was a music performance major and psychology minor. Google “music” and “psychology” and you’ll inevitably see “music therapy” pop up, and the more I learned about it, the more I felt like I could music to do some tangible good for other people who had special needs.
What do you like about what you do?
I see the best potential of people. Someone with Alzheimer’s disease might spend most of their day confused and agitated, but during a music therapy session they can really seem alive again. Kids with autism can be frantic, disengaged, or inattentive, but in music therapy sessions, I can see what they are really capable of.
What do you dislike?
Some people can dismiss the term “music therapy” out of hand, like a foo-foo aromatherapy or rock therapy or any of the thousand other things companies market as “therapy” to make money. It’s not pseudo-science, it’s a social science with a research base.
How do you make money/or how are you compensated?
As a professor, I’m paid by the university, of course. However, I worked for health care facilities and school districts as a salaried employee or contract worker. However, music therapists may also receive payment from insurance companies who cover individuals that we work with.
How much do you make?
Music therapy salaries vary by placement. If you work in a school district, you make money like a teacher does: less salary, more benefits, summers off. Work in a hospital, make more money, less benefits, less off time.
How much money did/do you make starting out?
About $37,000 in year one as a first year music therapist at a nursing home.
What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?
Music therapy is a bachelor’s degree entry level profession. Usually four years of coursework, half a year of internship, and passing a board certification exam (www.cbmt.com).
What advice would you offer someone considering this career?
Shadow a few music therapists and see what their days might be like. Find out what motivates you about working with people with special needs, and volunteer to do that in some capacity while in high school.
How much time off do you get/take?
See above per salaries.
What is a common misconception people have about what you do?
We conduct drum circles only, that we do therapy only with musicians, or that we just do singalongs to help people feel better.
What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I’d like the profession to double in size, be reimbursed and accepted like physical and occupational therapies are, and I’d personally hope my research can be used to improve many people’s lives.