Music Therapy Jobs

By April 1, 2014Ideas, Jobs

The other day, I was talking with Sara, who is a high school student (and a talented singer and clarinetist), and her mom.  Sara was exploring music careers, and her mom asked me, “Are there jobs in music therapy?”. This is probably the second-most common question I am asked, the most common being, “What is music therapy?”.

It’s a valid and important question. I mean, what’s the point of getting a music therapy degree if there aren’t any opportunities for employment? Well I’m going to answer the question to the best of my abilities, based on my own observations and experiences.

My story…

First, let me tell my story. Following the completion of my music therapy degree, my first job was working for a private practice. It was a practice in a small town in Eastern Iowa, and business was booming. The owner of the practice had started and built up a business that contracted with at least three hospice agencies, two nursing homes, a hospital, a school district, and several individual clients.

I was one of three music therapists providing services in a town of about 7,000. Now, we had contracts outside of this small town and it did entail quite a bit driving. But I was earning as much, if not more, than many of my college friends who had graduated with business, science, or communications degrees. (On the other hand, some of my engineer friends were doing quite well.)

Music Therapy Jobs

After working there a year, I decided I wanted to do less driving and I began working part time for a more local, larger hospice agency. I also took a position with an adult palliative care team in a medical setting. Both of these positions offered increased hourly wages, and added up to a full time position. I did not receive benefits through either, but, being a youngster, I could remain on my dad’s insurance until the age of 26.

After another year, I entered a graduate program for music therapy at the University of Iowa, where I built upon my skills and gained experience in research and supervising students. Throughout this period, I continued to work part time for the hospice agency, and also maintained a small private practice and guitar lesson studio of my own. This helped me pay for graduate school. By this point, I was earning much more per hour than before, but working fewer hours.

Following the completion of my master’s degree, I started shopping around for a full time position. I interviewed for several (see my post about interview questions) and eventually ended up exactly where I wanted to be – providing music therapy as a full time clinician (benefitted) in a pediatric hospital. While looking for jobs, I came across many different positions – some which would have suited me, and some which wouldn’t have. They ranged from part time to full time, and music therapist salaries ranged from about $30,000/year to $80,000/year.

The music therapy job market

$80,000 isn’t so bad, but, could more money be earned? Forbes Magazine believes so.

Where does one find music therapy jobs? At the time of writing this post, there are 73 jobs posted on the American Music Therapy Association’s website (you have to be a member to view), and they are all across the country. Regional associations also post job listings, and several travel by word of mouth and through email lists.

I don’t want to be all rosy here. Sometimes it does take a while to find that “ideal job”. But, I find this to be the case in many fields. It often takes some time to gain the experience and expertise needed for specific settings. I can honestly say that the majority (if not entirety) of my graduating class is gainfully employed as a music therapist.

Another possibility is to do what many other music therapists have done: if the ideal job doesn’t exist in your town, create it!

And I’m optimistic about the future. Music therapy continues to receive national attention as more and more people learn about the amazing benefits. Treatment teams want to add music therapists. The national association and the certification board are actively advocating for music therapy and for music therapists. Several states have adopted a music therapy license, further protecting the field. Researchers are deepening our understanding of how music affects our brains, bodies, and emotions.

Another thing I’m optimistic about is the wealth of opportunities within music therapy. Music therapists are now creating products and services for other music therapists. There is infinite room for growth.

So, are there jobs in music therapy? My experience says yes. And my bet is that this is going to be the case for a long time. As healthcare changes and as people are more interested in preventative medicine and non-pharmaceutical symptom management, interest in music therapy will continue to rise. If one is persistent and active about getting the “ideal music therapy job”, it can totally happen. And that is very, very exciting.

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  • Rachel says:

    Thanks for this, Matt. I’ve recently started to look into music therapy as an option. Because of the variable feedback I’ve heard re: job opportunities, I’ve felt that I should probably hedge my bets by pursuing a university program that would qualify me to sit for a general mental health therapist licence exam along with a music therapy licence. Something like what Lesley University offers. What are your thoughts on this — is it wise, or overkill?

    • Matt Logan says:

      Hi Rachel – thanks for your comment. Extra trainings, licenses, etc. certainly make you more appealing to some employers. I think it really depends where you see yourself working. For instance, the general mental health therapist license might be really important if you’re applying for a job in psychiatric or behavioral health settings. But if you want to work with premature babies, you might be better served by doing a NICU MT training, either with Joanne Loewy or Jayne Standley. If you want to work in adult neuro-rehab, NMT might give you a competitive edge.

      I do think it’s safe to say that the mental health license (specifically the knowledge attained by earning it) is applicable in nearly all settings, so I do not think it is overkill. It’s an important consideration. Other important considerations include: does the program’s approach mesh well with your personal philosophy? does the program have a strong track record of producing competent music therapists? in what kinds of settings are recent alumni finding work?

  • Angie Kopshy says:

    I completely agree. I believe more opportunities will open up over the next few years, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon, more and more families are seeking out music therapy as an alternative or addition to their allied health professional team.

    • Matt Logan says:

      Thanks for the comment, Angie. Being a native Iowan, I noticed a very similar thing in the Midwest. Lots of jobs and private practices popping up!

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