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7 Tips for Hiring a Mental Health Music Therapist


Because of music’s power to connect us to emotions, Music Therapy can be one of the most effective forms of therapy incorporated into a client’s mental health recovery. But not all music therapists are trained in the same way. And most are not trained to work with clients who suffer from disorders in areas such as addiction, eating disorder, depression, and anxiety.


If you are considering hiring a music therapist, it is important to know what to look for and what questions to ask to ensure that you are hiring someone who will be a good match for you and your clients. Here are 7 tips to help you hire a qualified mental health music therapist:


1. Ask if the music therapist has been trained to work in residential or outpatient mental health settings.

Most music therapists do not have the skills needed to work in a mental health setting, nor are they prepared for the experience personally. While possible, it is rare for these populations to be included in the educational curriculum for music therapists. Even if a music therapist has observed in residential or outpatient populations, it is rare that they have been in the position of leadership. These populations have a much different communication style and energy from what most music therapists are comfortable with and trained to work with.


2. Ask if the music therapist has experience working in a residential or outpatient mental health facility as opposed to a psychiatric hospital.

It’s good to know what kind of experiences the music therapist has already had. If they have been trained to work in mental health but they are new to the population, they may need additional support. Typically, music therapists working in mental health populations are working in an acute psychiatric setting, which requires a completely different skill set.


3. Ask if the music therapist is board certified.

Unfortunately, the term music therapist is used loosely by some and may be unintentionally misleading. Sometimes people will call themselves a music therapist when they do not have a degree or credentials, and there can be a big difference in skill set. Being board certified ensures that the music therapist has been through a specific curriculum and practicum as well as a clinical internship. It also means that the music therapist must adhere to an objective standard of ethics and continue to participate in professional development to renew their board certification.


4. Look for qualities like self-assurance and confidence.

Music therapists in mental health must have qualities like self-assurance and confidence to be resilient and effective in mental health populations. Most music therapists have not encountered frequent situations like combative behavior, manipulation, intentional verbal attacks, defensiveness, pushback, or power dynamic challenges. If a music therapist isn’t well-grounded and trusting in the process, it can be difficult for them to be successful in a mental health setting where clients possess high levels of emotional processing.


5. Look for a calm, quick responsiveness.

Music therapists in mental health need to be quick on their feet and able to handle challenges quickly and effectively. Because clients can be triggered by the emotions they experience while connecting with music, music therapists must be able to recognize what is happening in the midst of a group and adapt in the moment to support the triggered client. Otherwise there is an unintended potential for harm and inefficacy of the session. They also must be able to respond effectively to any client behavior that attempts to undermine their leadership.


6. Ask about an experience that was challenging while working in mental health.

Music therapists in mental health face circumstances that most other music therapists do not. Ask them about a challenging experience they faced, what it was like for them, and what they did about it. Look for evidence in their body language and voice that remains caring but detached. A music therapist who exhibits characteristics of frustration, shame, or embarrassment may have trouble with resiliency.


7. Look for clear answers to these questions: “Why should we incorporate music therapy here? How could music be helpful to our clients?”

The music therapist should have a strong sense of purpose behind their work. They should be able to describe how they will help in a way that you can clearly understand and to which you can relate, and they should have a generalized plan for working with clients in mental health.


There should be a likeability factor to the music therapist; if you do not feel like you connect with them, there’s a good chance your clients won’t either.


While finding a music therapist who is comfortable and trained to work with mental health populations can be a challenge, it is well worth the effort to ensure success for everyone.


At Get In Tune, we are proud to offer music therapy led by Board Certified Music Therapists specifically trained to work in residential and outpatient mental health populations. If you are interested in bringing high quality music therapy services to your facility and to your clients, we invite you to begin a conversation where we can share more about what we do and learn about your facility’s needs.

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