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how to become a music therapist

How to Become a Music Therapist for Life Enrichment in Senior Living

Music and songs have the power to tap into old memories, helping seniors with memory loss to reminisce about previous times, reduce stress, and improve their mental wellbeing.

Listening to and sharing music with seniors can be one of the most beneficial and special moments of their day. It allows them to sing and dance along to their favorite tunes again.

For talented musicians who are deeply compassionate and empathetic, a career in music therapy can be the dream job. How many other people get paid to play and sing along to music all day?

If you’re a musician who’s interested in becoming a professional music therapist, continue reading to learn what skills, education, and certification you will need to begin your deeply rewarding career.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is an allied health profession that uses music, singing, playing instruments, and dancing to improve mental, physical, and social well-being.

Seniors living with Alzheimer’s and dementia benefit the most from music therapy, as singing and dancing can help to unlock memories and stimulate the entire brain.

Music therapy is used to provide therapeutic activity programs and therapy treatments to provide habilitative and rehabilitation to seniors, especially those suffering from memory loss.

What does a music therapist do?

Music therapists work with their residents’ needs and come up with personalized and group therapy sessions to improve well-being.

Music therapists typically work in medical, mental health, memory care, assisted living, and physical rehabilitation centers. 

Typically, a music therapist will engage with their residents either one-on-one or in group settings, including:

  • Singing together
  • Curating music playlists based on the resident’s personal tastes
  • Listening to music together
  • Playing music on headphones for residents
  • Having residents play percussion instruments to tap along to the beat
  • Dancing and moving along to music

How to start a career as a music therapist

People who have a passion for singing, playing music, and helping people are the ideal candidates for the music therapy profession.

In addition to having the necessary music capabilities, music therapists must also have strong interpersonal and communication skills, including empathy, compassion, and strong observational skills.

Music therapists are currently in demand to work at assisted living communities, memory care communities, physical rehabilitation centers, hospice care, and mental health facilities. 

People wishing to become music therapists will need to be trained to work with people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, to understand aging, music, and its effect on memory and brain function.

Required education and certification for becoming a music therapist

Musicians hoping to work as music therapists will need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited music therapy program. 

Additionally, they’ll need to complete at least 1,200 hours of clinical training and an internship to meet the standards of the American Music Therapy Association.

After graduation, music therapist students are eligible to take an exam to become a certified music therapist and gain their MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified) certification.

Further, each state may have its own additional specific requirements for practicing music therapy. 

Standards and requirements for practicing music therapy 

Music therapists must follow the specific standards and ethical code of conduct defined by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), which include:

  • A scope of music therapy practice
  • Standards of clinical practice
  • Code of ethics
  • Professional competencies

Music therapy in senior living and its impact on the senior population

In music therapy, there’s a quote that says “when words fail, music speaks.” 

Music therapy helps residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, including non-verbal people with dementia, find their voice to speak and dance again.

Music has a unique superpower to brighten the moods of people who are feeling depressed, anxious, or unable to speak, even sometimes getting people who are non-verbal to sing along and speak again!

When you play music, it’s processed in every part of the brain, and it tends to stay with us, even when memory loss occurs. That’s why people with Alzheimer’s are still able to remember every lyric of their favorite songs and sing along.

Music therapy can take place either in one-on-one sessions or frequently in large group settings, with the music therapist playing music and encouraging residents to sing or clap along. Sometimes percussion instruments, such as tambourines and shakes are passed to encourage movement and play along to the beat.

The benefits of music therapy for senior well-being and mental health

Just like music class in school, joining along in singing and dancing with other people can create joy and togetherness for people living together, improving social and mental well-being.

Singing is usually accompanied by movement and exercise, whether it’s clapping, dancing in their chair, or waving their arms about to the beat.

Music also has the power to calm nerves and soothe agitation, particularly for those dealing with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. For these people, music therapy provides the most benefits to reduce stress and help with depression.

Life enrichment events at The Kensington Reston

The Kensington Reston runs a full calendar of life enrichment events and classes seven days a week, from morning until evening, including music events. 

Life enrichment can include partnerships and collaborations with other Reston area organizations to allow our residents to participate in intimate group activities, such as arts, theater, wellness, sports, and athletics.

Our Pocket Programs are small-group activities that have been personalized based on our residents’ different interests, such as music, games, classes, and more.

Full-time life enrichment coordinators work with our staff and residents to come up with engaging and diverse programming that will support each resident’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive well-being.

Join The Kensington team — where care partners and residents are family

The Kensington Reston is a premier assisted living and memory care community located in Reston, Virginia.

Our community specializes in varying levels of memory care, including our two memory care neighborhoods “Haven” and “Connections.” Here, we help residents with varying levels of Alzheimer’s and dementia to receive higher levels of care and supervision, including music therapy.

If you or somebody you know is interested in working at The Kensington as a music therapist, please check out our careers page or contact us for more information on available positions.