A New Way to Become a Music Therapist

This post is slightly different from the usual advice you see here for music in caregiving and self-care, but I wanted to share a bit about the amazing experience I’ve had this last weekend, and speak to those of you who might be interested in becoming music therapists yourself.

First, some background.

To become a music therapist in the United States, you must earn board certification. The Certification Board for Music Therapists is the independent certifying agency that awards the MT-BC credential to applicants who have met the following requirements:

  1. Successful completion of an education and clinical training program approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).
  2. Successful completion of the board certification exam, which is an objective examination on current skills in the music therapy profession.
  3. Recertification every five years by completion of continuing education activities or a recertification exam.

As you might guess, completing step 1 is the biggest step in becoming eligible for board certification as a music therapist. Music-therapists-to-be must complete either a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, or a music therapy equivalency, in which people who already have bachelor’s degrees in related fields can take the coursework and clinical training to meet the requirements for music therapy education to be eligible to sit for the board exam. Music therapists may hold advanced degrees, too, but at the time of this writing, music therapists are board-certified at the bachelor’s level. You can search for colleges and universities that offer AMTA-approved programs in music therapy on the AMTA website.

After you complete your academic program, you also need to complete your clinical internship to be eligible to take the board-certification exam. Music-therapists-to-be may choose to apply to national roster internship sites, or they may be able to arrange a university-affilitated internship through their own university. The first option is ideal for those who have the flexibility to choose the internship that is the perfect fit for them. The second option works especially well for people who do not have a national roster site nearby and who don’t want to move for the internship.

My own professional route was undergraduate training at the University of Evansville and an internship at MusicWorx of California in San Diego. Back then, I was a traditional student in my early 20s. If I were to start all over again, now that I have a husband and a daughter, I would probably prefer a different path.

“That sounds like me!” you might think. “I already have another degree. What is that other path?”

Excellent question! The alternate path is a music therapy equivalency program. Music therapy equivalency programs are nothing new, and many brick-and-mortar universities offer them, but this fall brings a brand-new option for music therapy training: the Music Therapy Equivalency Distance (MTED) program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC). Prospective students must meet several requirements before entering this program. You must already have a bachelor’s degree in music. You must be proficient on voice and at least one accompanying instrument upon entry, and you must pass an audition on your primary instrument. You must also have at least 5 MT-BCs in your geographic area – these are the folks that will help to supervise your clinical training.

After meeting these requirements, you are eligible to start the program, but you will still have additional requirements to meet outside of the coursework provided at SMWC. This includes five supportive courses not offered directly through the MTED program, including biology, statistics, and psychology courses. You must also pass proficiency exams on guitar, voice and piano. This may require that you take private music lessons in your area to build the musical skills you need on these instruments.

The MTED program itself is in a distance learning format. Students and faculty come to campus for residencies three times a year, to build relationships with each other, to work on skills that are difficult to learn through online communication formats, and to receive in-person advising on music skills and the student’s overall growth as they move through the program. You’ll spend the remainder of each semester learning through online discussion forums, traditional reading and writing assignments, and frequent interactions with your teachers and fellow students. You also will have several hours of clinical training each week with a local MT-BC as your supervisor, and group supervision with your classmates and the SMWC Clinical Coordinator via teleconference. This is where you’ll have the real world experiences of observing an MT-BC, co-leading and eventually leading sessions with music therapy clients. These field placements will prepare you for your internship, which is a longer-term clinical training experience, as described above.

Once the MTED requirements are met, and you’ve completed your internship, you will be eligible to sit for the board-certification exam and become a board-certified music therapist. Yay!

I am a graduate of the Master of Arts in Music Therapy (MAMT) program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, and I can vouch for the quality of the distance learning programs at that institution. And now I have the great honor of teaching the “Music As Therapy” course for the very first group of students in the MTED program! I am humbled and inspired by the students here who have already had full lives and rich experiences, and who will be doing a LOT of hard work over the next couple of years to become music therapists. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be introducing these students to the profession and accompanying this group on the first part of their journey.

If you are a musician who has fallen in love with the elderly or people with special needs, or if you love music but have never felt performance or music education to be the right fit for you even after earning a degree or two, the MTED program might be the perfect place for you to gain the skills and experience to qualify for board-certification in music therapy and start a new career in an amazing profession.

Interested? Read more about the Music Therapy Equivalency Distance program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College here or look for equivalency programs in your local area on the AMTA website.


11 thoughts on “A New Way to Become a Music Therapist

  1. IJB says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am currently in the process of applying for this program and although I live in Chicago (many a music therapists around there are no equivalency programs in the city). The only problem I am having with this is that I am having a difficult time getting music therapists to agree to help me with the clinical work. Wish me luck. I have been an early childhood music educator for the past years and have been dreaming of becoming a music therapist. As my Mom says, if it is meant to be it will be. 🙂 This post gave me encouragement.

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      Hello, and thank you for your comment!

      I’m surprised you’re having difficulty finding music therapists to supervise. Have you talked with the SMWC folks about this? I hope it will work out for you, and I’ll look forward to meeting you in the future!

  2. Mary says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am considering become a music therapist–or recreation therapist, unfortunately though it’ll take a while to get there since I don’t have a BA in music and courses are so expensive….plus I’m currently overseas. But, it is still a goal that I wish to aim for and hopefully I can figure out a way to do all of this (maybe test out of courses?) or find online prereqs that I can take/afford. Anyhoo, thanks a lot for posting this, it has helped answer some questions :).

  3. Kristi Neumann says:

    I’ve only just discovered this program, but I’ve been thinking about going into music therapy for a while. I just didn’t think they’d have online programs. I currently hold a B.A. in Music with an emphasis on voice, as well as an independent minor in music composition and sound design. I also have my general music and choral education license. Is it too late to apply and audition? Are new students able to apply to start in Winter? Or do I have to wait for next fall to get started?

  4. just4vids says:

    Hi, but how do you pay for it? I’m glad to hear of someone who has had success. Since there is no equivalency program where I live, this is a great option. But they don’t offer scholarships–did you just take out a lot of loans? I’m in the serious process of choosing what/where to study, including teaching certification.

    Thank you,

    • Rachelle Norman says:


      I don’t know anything about scholarship opportunities, unfortunately. I didn’t do the equivalency program at SMWC, just the master’s program, but I did pay for that out of pocket and with federal student loans.

    • Rachelle Norman says:

      Hi Phoenix,

      My understanding is that this requirement has changed. Now, if you did not get your degree from an NASM-accredited school, you have to pass an entrance exam. Unfortunately, I don’t know any more details than that, but you can certainly contact the program director at SMWC for more details.

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