The Most Important Trait of a Music Therapist

Working in a field as unique as music therapy, I naturally get a lot of questions about what I do, and what it's like to be a music therapist. Frequently, we find high school students, college students, even adults who are interested in a career change coming to us asking to observe and learn more, to see if music therapy would be a good career option for them.

One of the most frequently asked questions is "What is the most important personality trait of a good music therapist?"

With apologies to my fellow music therapists, I hear a lot of my colleagues giving some majorly cliche answers to this question.

"Music therapists must be compassionate."

"Music therapists need to have excellent musicianship!"

"Music therapists must be caring."

"Music therapists must be passionate."

Yadda, yadda. Now, these are all good answers. Really, they are. To be good at this job, you must be compassionate, be a good musician, caring, and passionate. But with the exception of musicianship, are there really many jobs where you don't need to be compassionate, caring, and full of passion? Sure, you could lack those traits, but you probably wouldn't be very good at your job.

I'm going to say that the above traits are not the most important trait of a good music therapist. So what is the single most important skill you can have to excel in this field?

A good music therapist, and I mean the best of the best, excel at creative problem solving.

Yep, that's it. You want to be the cream of the crop in music therapy? Work on those problem solving skills.

Why is that? Because every single day when I come into work, I'm presented with a problem, and asked to think of a solution, and there's no recipe to follow. I have a client that comes in who has receptive language deficits. When given instruction, or asked a question, they don't respond. My job is to think of a way to help them strengthen this skill, using music-based activities and interventions. There's no cookbook out there that says "Do two lyrics analyses, some responsive singing, and call me in the morning." It's up to me to think of a creative way of accomplishing this goal that my client will respond to.

Now, our training is extensive, trust me. A bachelor's or master's degree IN music therapy is required. Add a 6-month internship, and a certification board exam (that must be maintained in 5-year cycles), and I assure you, we music therapists know our stuff.

But there's not a recipe of interventions to follow. Why is this? Because so much of what we do is tailored to the individual in front of us. An intervention designed for a toddler is not likely to be effective for an adult, even with the same diagnosis.

So that's my daily dilema. Help this child learn this skill, and oh yeah, use music to do it. Ready, go!

And what an exciting challenge it is.

Ready to see what the therapists at The George Center can do? Let's talk!