While the therapeutic power of music is well known, many people are unaware that it takes a properly trained or “certified” music therapist to help harness this power, and use it to maximize its therapeutic benefit(s) on a client. A common image that comes to mind when music therapy is mentioned is that of an individual bringing a guitar into a hospital or long term care facility and performing popular songs for groups of patients/clients. While this may be how it appears on the surface, there is actually a lot more work that goes on before, during and after a session to help make everything go according to plan. It is more than just learning and performing fun songs! Years of musical and psychological training are required to receive the MTA credential.
There were three main steps that I needed to follow in order to become a certified music therapist. The first step was to acquire a post-secondary degree in music therapy. One such method to achieve this is to get a bachelor degree in music therapy (BMT). In Canada, this undergraduate degree is offered at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canadian Mennonite University in Manitoba, and Capilano University in British Columbia, and it typically takes four years to complete. This is the path I took to begin my training, and I received my degree from WLU in June 2014. The BMT program combines core music subjects with other applicable skills such as composition and improvisation. Psychology is also a major component of the degree, and the completion of courses on abnormal, clinical, developmental, and musical psychology are required as part of the degree. The amount of required psychology courses was high enough that I was able to apply for a minor in psychology when I graduated.
Another option for post-secondary music therapy training is to complete a master of music therapy degree (MMT). This program is offered as Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, and at Concordia University in Quebec. The MMT program is open to applicants with a BMT degree, or a degree in a related field such as music performance or psychology. MMT candidates with a BMT can complete their training in one year, while those with a differing degree require two years. A successful audition and interview is required to become accepted into the program.
Regardless of which degree is acquired, the next main step is to complete a 1000 hour unpaid clinical internship. Students who have completed their BMT degree need to complete their internship at a facility approved by the Canadian Association of Music Therapists (CAMT). Applicants can either seek out facilities through their own research, or can apply for facilities listed on the CAMT Internship Registry. These facilities include schools, long term care facilities, hospitals, and private practices. All applicants need to draft an internship proposal outlining their intent, and why the facility they chose is an appropriate choice for them. Upon successful approval, an intern will then work towards completing their 1000 clinical hours. An appropriate internship site will allow an intern to work alongside one or multiple accredited music therapists with many years of experience.
A minimum of 700 of the 1000 total hours come from direct service work. This includes direct client contact, session planning, documentation, session observation, and supervision meetings. Of these 700 hours, at least 300 must be direct client contact hours or actual music therapy sessions.
The remaining 300 hours come from administrative work. These hours go past personal documentation, and can be acquired by attending conferences, performing in-service presentations, or organizing meetings on non-client specific topics.
I began my 1000 hour clinical internship at Zareinu Educational Centres of Metropolitan Toronto in September 2014, completing it in June 2015. Zareinu is an Orthodox Jewish private school for children and infants with special needs. I worked with children between the ages of two and nine with a wide variety of diagnoses. I also had the opportunity to work with adolescent students at Eitz Chaim School, one of a few satellite schools where Zareinu has classrooms. I enjoyed my time at Zareinu, and I was fortunate to work with a supervisor that I connected well with. I learned lots about music therapy, clinical practices, education management, and how to effectively solve problems/overcome challenges. I also had the opportunity to work as part of a multidisciplinary team alongside the school’s occupational and physical therapy departments. We would combine the three therapies into multidisciplinary activities, such as “movement and music” groups. Since Zareinu comprises of staff, students, and families who are Jewish, I was exposed to numerous opportunities to learn about Jewish and Hebrew customs, music, and how music is incorporated into significant events such as Rosh Hashanah or Passover. It was a great learning experience, and I feel fortunate to have been accepted into such a well renowned institution.
The third and final step was to complete and pass the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) exam. The CBMT is an American organization, and was initially created as part of the certification process for American music therapists. In 2015, the CAMT adopted this exam as part of the certification process for Canadian music therapists. Prior to 2015, an MTA candidate would submit their intern evaluation along with a case study documenting the clinical work completed at their internship to the CAMT head office in London, ON. It would then be reviewed, and if the candidate met all requirements, they would be then be granted their MTA certification. The former process was time consuming, and candidates would have to wait many months after completing their internship to become accredited. The new system involving the CBMT exam allows for the process to be sped up, and allows candidates the chance to receive their MTA status in a matter of weeks.
Following the completion of my internship in June 2015, I spent the next three months studying for the CBMT exam. The studying involved reviewing different theories and methods of music therapy, understanding of client diagnoses, reviewing musical components such as performance techniques and music theory, and administrative practices. While studying for the exam was stressful, much of the material was common sense, and the required material and readings were clearly listed on downloadable documents found on the CBMT website. Completion of the CBMT practice exam was very helpful as well as it contained questions similar to the ones that would be found on the exam, and explained why certain answers were correct while others were wrong. It helped me get into the appropriate mindset for the real exam.
In September 2015 I wrote the CBMT exam in Thornhill, appropriately in the same community where I had recently completed my internship. I had hoped when registering for the exam that this would act as a good luck omen and it seems that I was correct. I was notified in October 2015 that I had received a passing score on the exam! Since the CBMT regulates music therapy accreditation in both Canada and the U.S, passing the exam gives me the status of Music Therapist Accredited (MTA) as well as Music Therapist Board Certified (MT-BC). This means I can legally practice music therapy in both of these countries!
So as you have seen, it takes lots of work and studying to become a certified music therapist. This training is essential to making sure that music therapists have a full understanding of clinical practices, professional ethics, and diagnostic criteria. This also ensures that clients will receive appropriate and required therapeutic benefits, and that they will gain the best possible experience from this therapy. It is amazing what can be achieved through music therapy, and the possibilities are limitless.
It is a long process to receive the MTA credential, but it is definitely worth it in the end. I love being able to wake up every morning and get to do the job that I’ve wanted to do for so long! I’m excited to begin practicing music therapy, and to help expand my practice into the community I serve. Thank you and all the best from Daniel Allen MTA, MT-BC.