For Patients and Families
Medical music therapists use music interventions, both instrumental and vocal, that are designed to promote positive changes in the patient’s well-being. Based on individual assessments, treatment planning and ongoing evaluations, the music therapist will create programs to address outcomes such as: reduction of pain perception and anxiety, stress management and emotional expression.
The goals and outcomes of music therapy are often as unique as the individual. When working with patients at St. Jude, the goals are often physical, emotional and developmental in nature. Common goals often include outcomes such as becoming comfortable with the hospital environment and reducing anxiety and pain. There can also be opportunities for emotional expression and developmental growth.
For music therapists at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, there is no such thing as a “typical day.” Throughout the day, we try to remain as flexible as possible to meet the needs of the patients. When arriving in the morning, we take time to review our caseload and the inpatient census, following patients who have been referred to us by other health care professionals. Based on a number of factors, such as treatment phase, adjustment to illness, level of social support, or responses to music, we try to best prioritize our caseload.
The interventions that we prepare for and with our patients are completely individualized to meet them where they are. Potential ways that we engage in music may include: listening to music, playing instruments, dancing, singing, writing songs, relaxing or talking about music.
We also balance a number of administrative responsibilities, including departmental and interdisciplinary meetings, planning groups and individual sessions, advocating for music therapy services, documenting on sessions, and sustaining proper tuning and maintenance of our instruments.
Those who wish to become a music therapist must earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved program. The curriculum includes coursework in music, music therapy, biology, psychology, social and behavioral sciences, and general studies. Clinical skills are developed through 1,200 hours of required fieldwork, including an internship in healthcare and/or education facilities. These experiences allow students to learn how to assess the needs of clients, develop and implement treatment plans, and evaluate and document clinical changes. Once coursework and clinical training are completed, the student is eligible to take the national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT), an independent, non-profit certifying agency fully accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.
After successful completion of the examination, graduates are issued the credentials necessary for professional practice, Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC). To maintain this credential, music therapists must demonstrate continued competence by completing 100 recertification credits or retaking and passing the CBMT examination within each five-year recertification cycle.
Unfortunately, due to HIPAA regulations and the sheer volume of requests for shadowing, we are unable to accommodate these opportunities. Students who are interested in learning more about music therapy or pursuing a career in the field are encouraged to enroll in our annual day-long intensive Music Therapy 101.
Music is such a wonderful thing to have at the hospital. The music therapy program does not currently have music volunteers. However, we suggest considering providing a special event at the hospital.
At St. Jude, the ability to help individuals connect with music during their experience is such a privilege to us. If you are interested in pursuing a career in music therapy, now is a good time to start preparing. First, it helps to be a fairly good musician. Music therapists must acquire functional piano, guitar and vocal skills prior to graduation. In this regard, it is never too early to start developing your musicianship!
We recommend spending some time on the American Music Therapy Association’s website. It contains a wealth of information about what music therapy is, how to pursue a career and populations that music therapists serve.
Reach out to local universities that offer AMTA accredited music therapy programs. Opportunities for shadowing or discussing the educational path will help you determine whether music therapy is the right career choice for you.
Finally, join us at Music Therapy 101, our annual day-long intensive, where students come to St. Jude to learn more about music therapy or pursuing a career in the field.