Music Therapists: How to Become Certified and Support Children

Music therapy is a lasting form of treatment that allows patients to experience relief from pain and anxiety without medication or going under the knife. It has been used in ancient Greece, Native American culture, World War I & II, and our present day military.

Those who are interested in music therapy want to help others feel better and express themselves. If this sounds like you, here are ways to become a music therapist and insights into what that career will look like.

Music Therapy Education

There are 72 colleges that offer degrees in music therapy, from bachelor’s degrees to doctorates. It is an established health profession that uses music in a therapeutic manner to help patients deal with their physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.

The educational experience of becoming a music therapist is wide and diverse. This unique program covers not only the study of music, but also learning to express oneself so the therapist can help others do so. The coursework includes topics such as:

  • Music
  • Music therapy
  • Psychology
  • Biology
  • Social and behavioral sciences
  • Disabilities
  • General studies
Music therapist find joy in helping sick children heal and express themselves.

Music therapist find joy in helping sick children heal and express themselves.

When a student begins their study, he or she learns a practical application of music therapy procedures and practices learned in the classroom through required fieldwork in facilities helping those with disabilities in the community and on campus; real life experience is critical to learning to connect with patients.

Students studying to become music therapists learn to understand the needs of clients, create and execute treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes. At the completion of American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved academic training and internship, the student is eligible for admission to the certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, Inc. Upon passing the national examination administered by the CBMT, the student acquires the credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC). Coursework requirements vary; contact individual universities for specific information.

Those who are interested in a master’s degree in music therapy must have earned a bachelor’s degree. Some schools require either a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, the equivalency in music therapy or that the student be working toward fulfilling degree equivalency requirements. For more information about the education requirements of a music therapist click here.

A Look into Berklee College of Music

Berklee College of Music is one example of a university that offers education and degrees in music therapy. Not only do students learn music theory, history of music therapy and how to teach and assess skills, they are also trained in how to operate in clinical settings. At Berklee, “The goals of the music therapy program are to:

  • Enable students to integrate musical and interpersonal talents with the latest technology and today’s music
  • Build careers devoted to helping others achieve their goals regardless of their personal limitations or challenges
  • Train savvy professionals in an interdisciplinary clinical team that can serve people through the life cycle, from infancy to older adulthood
  • Apply the art and science of music therapy in assessing the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions”

The school encourages those who are “Creative musicians, problem solvers, insightful helpers, empathetic listeners, keen observers and a verbal and musical communicator” to enroll in the program.

After Graduation

The road to becoming a music therapist isn’t easy, not unlike any other profession in the medical community. After individuals graduate from an accredited university, they are eligible to take a national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). After successful completion of the CBMT examination, graduates are issued the credential necessary for professional practice, Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC). In addition to the MT-BC credential, other recognized professional designations listed with the National Music Therapy Registry are Registered Music Therapists (RMT), Certified Music Therapists (CMT) and Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT).

Once a graduate becomes an official, registered music therapist, they work closely with patients to figure out objectives and goals and with hospital doctors to focus on pain, stress relief or whatever else the patient needs. The process begins with an assessment by the therapist, who determines what the patient can do and what their needs are. Activities the therapist designs are made to achieve those goals through music.

Why Become a Music Therapist?

The American Music Therapy Association says this form of treatment can promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation. Most of the time, live music is used because it is more flexible and offers a greater chance for interaction between the therapist and patient.

As we have explained before, “Music therapy can help to relieve pain and reduce stress and anxiety for the patient, resulting in physiological changes, including: improved respiration, lower blood pressure, improved cardiac output, reduced heart rate and relaxed muscle tension. This form of therapy has been shown to have a significant effect on a patient’s perceived effectiveness of treatment, including pain reduction, relaxation, respiration rate, and lower levels of anxiety.” Review our previous blog post on Health Benefits of Music Therapy for more details.

The Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program

Music Therapist, Oliver Jacobson plays a song for a young patient at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Music Therapist, Oliver Jacobson plays a song for a young patient at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

At UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program is an important part of their Creative Arts team. This hospital uses music therapy to reach physical, neurological, communicative, emotional, educational and behavioral goals to promote positive therapeutic change. The therapists also use music therapy to look at the complete child or teen, to bring forth their abilities and provide opportunities for creative self-expression and to find normalcy is the hospital environment. Music therapy provides a space for the child to be a child, and allows the patient to showcase their creative side while expressing the emotions surrounding their illness and hospital stay. Patients admitted to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital have the opportunity to receive music therapy at their bedside or they can participate in group sessions.

Meet UCSF’s Music Therapists

Our music therapy program at UCSF could not be as successful as it is without our talented and dedicated music therapists. An essential player of the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program is Oliver Jacobson, a board-certified music therapist and neurologic music therapist employed through Child Life Services. During his time with patients, he acknowledges the poking, pain and suffering that children and teens experience during their time in the hospital, but also notices when they become more vulnerable.

“I think those ‘aha’ moments in my sessions are when I see those walls come down and kids open up and trust me and trust the experience – that it’s not giving them pain, it’s actually even enjoyed and giving them good feelings. There is a shift in a session when those walls come down and I get to see kids flourish into who they are and want to be.” Jacobson was even able to perform with Chris Martin of Coldplay for patients at the hospital before Martin’s Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show.

Along with seasoned therapist Oliver Jacobson, we are happy to introduce two of our newest music therapists: Brianna Negrete and Matthew Logan.

Our new music therapist, Brianna Negrete is excited about her profession and helping patients.

Our new music therapist, Brianna Negrete is excited about her profession and helping patients.

Brianna Negrete has always enjoyed music and says she loves being a music therapist. She grew up in Orange County and played oboe and English horn in orchestras and community ensemble. Brianna attended California State University, Northridge for her undergraduate degree in music therapy and moved to Tallahassee, Florida to peruse a music therapy internship at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. After completing her internship, she stayed in Florida to attend graduate school at Florida State University where she earned her Master’s in music therapy. Working with infants in the Intensive Care Nursery confirmed the power of music in action with infants as young as 28 weeks old. She is inspired to empower family members to use music to help bond and engage with their child while in the hospital. When asked about her future, Brianna told us, “I am beyond excited to work as a music therapist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and be part of the Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program.”

Matthew Logan, a music therapist as UCSF, finds power and inspiration in helping sick children and teens.

Matthew Logan, a music therapist as UCSF, finds power and inspiration in helping sick children and teens.

Matthew Logan completed his training at the University of Iowa and at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Since then, he has provided music therapy services in a variety of settings, from hospitals and hospice agencies to schools and private practice. Matthew is active in regional and national music therapy associations, sitting on the Assembly of Delegates for the American Music Therapy Association and serving as the Media Relations Coordinator for the Western Region of the American Music Therapy Association. Matthew is an adjunct lecturer for the University of the Pacific, and can often be seen presenting at local, national, and international conferences. He is inspired daily by the power of music to evoke positive change in children and adults. On Saturdays in the fall, he can probably be found watching the Iowa Hawkeyes play football.

Supporting Music Therapy

As we mentioned above, music therapy is a non-invasive way for children and teens to find pain relief, comfort and support during very trying times. Read more about Music Therapy here.

You can also get involved in music therapy by donating to our foundation so we can continue to support hospitals like the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and bring new programs to other programs nationally and internationally. Visit our donations page today to make a contribution.

About the Peterson Family Foundation

The Peterson Family Foundation was founded in 2003 to enhance, restore and improve the quality of life for all human beings. Our primary mission is to seek out and support experts and institutions dedicated to enhancing and improving the lives of people dealing with illnesses requiring a stay at a medical institution by bringing music therapy to as many hospitals as possible. Learn more at our website or share your story with us.