Music therapist


Music therapists use music-therapeutic interventions to treat patients with behavioural disorders and pathogenic conditions to prevent, mitigate or eliminate symptoms and to change behaviours and attitudes requiring treatment. They promote and maintain or restore the development, maturity and health of the patient/client by music-therapeutic interventions. Music therapy especially provides help for people with with emotional, somatic, intellectually or socially induced behavioural disorders and pathogenic conditions, such as psychoses (schizophrenic disorders, bipolar disorders) and personality development disorders.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to music therapist:

Minimum qualifications

Associate’s degree is generally required to work as music therapist. However, this requirement may differ in some countries.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Music therapist is a Skill level 4 occupation.

Music therapist career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to music therapist.

recreational therapist
art therapist
specialist biomedical scientist
specialist pharmacist

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of music therapist. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of music therapist with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of music therapist.

Psychiatric diagnostics: The diagnostic systems and scales applied in psychiatry to determine the type of mental health disorder in adults, children and elderly.
Music therapy clinical practice: The therapeutic and musical support provided to facilitate effective treatment involving music-based interventions for patients in the medical setting such as a clinic.
Health care legislation: The patients` rights and responsibilities of health practitioners and the possible repercussions and prosecutions in relation to medical treatment negligence or malpractice.
Music therapy schools: The existing schools teaching music therapy and their importance for advancement in the field.
Cognitive psychology: The human mental processes such as attention, memory, language use, perception, problem solving, creativity and thinking.
Health care occupation-specific ethics: The moral standards and procedures, ethical questions and obligations specific to occupations in a health care setting such as respect for human dignity, self-determination, informed consent and patient confidentiality.
Inter-professional communication in the psychosocial field: The characteristics, the means and communication channels used between professionals in the psycho-social field, the specialised terminology and type of support.
Personal development: The techniques and methods used to improve awareness and identity and develop talents and potential in human beings.
Geriatrics: Geriatrics is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
Medical studies: The basics and terminology of medical studies.
Applied music therapy: The manifestations, symptoms and causes of illnesses and how they can be treated through music therapy.
Reflexion: The way to listen to individuals, to summarise the major points and clarify what they are feeling in order to help them reflect on their behaviour.
Neonatology: The branch of paediatric medicine concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of the new-born.
Peer group methods: The techniques relevant for peer group education, where each member is encouraged to express or exchnage a particular type of behaviour or piece of information.
Neurology: Neurology is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
Psychopharmacology: The awareness of various effects that medicines have on the patient or client’s behaviour, mood and thinking.
Disability types: The nature and types of disabilities affecting the human beings such as physical, cognitive, mental, sensory, emotional or developmental and the specific needs and access requirements of disabled people.
Psychotherapy principles: The fundamental principles and methods applied in psychotherapy to explore and resolve distressing behaviour or feelings.
Paediatrics: Paediatrics is a medical specialty mentioned in the EU Directive 2005/36/EC.
Sociology: The group behaviour and dynamics, societal trends and influences, human migrations, ethnicity, cultures and their history and origins.
Planning principles for music therapy interventions: The international classification systems (ICD, DSM), clinical-psychological diagnostics and psychodynamics for the planning of music therapy interventions.
Developmental possibilities in music therapy interventions: The developmental possibilities, motivation and impact on human thinking, awareness and actions and their importance for psychosocial and music-therapeutic interventions.
Human psychological development: The human psychological development across the lifespan, theories of personality development, cultural and environmental influences, human behavior, including developmental crises, disability, exceptional behavior, and addictive behavior.
History of musical instruments: The historical background and chronology of various musical instruments.
Palliative settings: The arrangement of the surrounding environment to alleviate the pain of patients in need of palliative care.
Music therapy processes: The development stage of a music therapy process which includes receiving patients referred to from healthcare professionals, educational professionals, completing an assessment through the study of medical or education records, interviewing the patient and observing the patient`s responses to music therapy techniques.
Behavioural therapy: The characteristics and foundations of behavioural therapy, which focuses on changing patients` unwanted or negative behaviour. It involves studying the present behaviour and the means by which this can be un-learned.
Anthropology: The study of development and behaviour of human beings.
Psychopathology: The criteria of psychiatric diagnoses, the use of the disease classification system, and the theories of psychopathology. The indicators of functional and organic disorders and the types of psychopharmacological medications.
Music therapy theories: The meta-theories, theories and practical concepts and interventions in music therapy and other scientific disciplines such as medicine, psychology, psychotherapy, music science and music pedagogics.
Types of music therapies: The different types of music therapies such as active, receptive and functional music therapy.
Psychological theories: The historical development of counselling and psychological theories, as well as the perspectives, applications, and interviewing and counselling strategies.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of music therapist.

Respond to changing situations in health care: Cope with pressure and respond appropriately and in time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations in healthcare.
Apply related sciences to music therapy: Use psychological or sociological elements in delivering music therapy.
Educate on the prevention of illness: Offer evidence-based advice on how to avoid ill health, educate and advise individuals and their carers on how to prevent ill health and/or be able to advise how to improve their environment and health conditions. Provide advice on the identification of risks leading to ill health and help to increase the patients’ resilience by targeting prevention and early intervention strategies.
Inform policy makers on health-related challenges: Provide useful information related to health care professions to ensure policy decisions are made in the benefit of communities.
Develop original melodies: Create impromptu compositions for accompaniment or solo parts, for vocal or instrumental performance in different musical genres.
Contribute to continuity of health care: Contribute to the delivery of coordinated and continuous healthcare.
Use e-health and mobile health technologies: Use mobile health technologies and e-health (online applications and services) in order to enhance the provided healthcare.
Provide directions in music therapy sessions: Give directions to patients during music therapy sessions, including verbal hints and body language.
Empathise with the healthcare user: Understand the background of clients` and patients’ symptoms, difficulties and behaviour. Be empathetic about their issues; showing respect and reinforcing their autonomy, self-esteem and independence. Demonstrate a concern for their welfare and handle according to the personal boundaries, sensitivities, cultural differences and preferences of the client and patient in mind.
Review music therapy treatment approaches: Modify and revise treatment plans as needed based on patient`s response to therapy.
Record healthcare users’ progress related to treatment: Record the healthcare user’s progress in response to treatment by observing, listening and measuring outcomes.
Record treated patient’s information: Record information accurately relating to the progress of the patient during therapy sessions.
Recognise patients’ reaction to therapy: Respond to significant changes, patterns and dangers in the patient’s response to therapy.
Perform repertoire for therapeutic purposes: Perform appropriate undergraduate repertoire in music therapy sessions, according to the needs of the patient.
Direct movement experiences: Assist clients or patients in moving in a structured or improvisatory manner for expressive purposes.
Formulate a case conceptualisation model for therapy: Compose an individualised treatment plan in collaboration with the individual, striving to match his or her needs, situation, and treatment goals to maximise the probability of therapeutic gain; considering any possible personal, social, and systemic barriers that might undermine treatment.
Meet the requirements of legal bodies: Ensure the practice methods and procedures used are in compliance with the regulations and requirements of the legal governing authority in the field.
Manage healthcare users’ data: Keep accurate client records which also satisfy legal and professional standards and ethical obligations in order to facilitate client management, ensuring that all clients’ data (including verbal, written and electronic) are treated confidentially.
Deal with emergency care situations: Assess the signs and be well-prepared for a situation that poses an immediate threat to a person’s health, security, property or environment.

Maintain healthcare user data confidentiality: Comply with and maintain the confidentiality of healthcare users` illness and treatment information.
Apply music therapy termination methods: Decide, together with the patient, on the methods to be used to conclude the music therapy sessions.
Integrate scientific findings into music therapy practice: Use the information gathered from various scientific findings and research to feed the daily practice and bring about improvements and innovation in the therapeutic interventions used in music therapy.
Apply music therapy treatment methods: Use various active and receptive intervention techniques in music therapy such as singing, playing instruments, improvising or rhythmic based experiences.
Provide health education: Provide evidence based strategies to promote healthy living, disease prevention and management.
Respond to incidents in music therapy sessions: Recognize, interpret, and respond appropriately to significant incidents in music therapy sessions.
Demonstrate musicianship: Show knowledge, technical skill and sensitivity when performing music on a principal instrument or voice.
Plan music therapy sessions: Make a treatment plan, outlining possible strategies and musical experiences that might be helpful in meeting the patient`s needs, setting clear goals for the patients to achieve and agreeing on a programme of activity with the patient, to be reviewed at regular intervals.
Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, health care professionals, and community partners.
Follow clinical guidelines: Follow agreed protocols and guidelines in support of healthcare practice which are provided by healthcare institutions, professional associations, or authorities and also scientific organisations.
Encourage healthcare user’s self-monitoring: Encourage the healthcare user to engage in self-monitoring by conducting situational and developmental analyses on him- or herself. Assist the healthcare user to develop a degree of self-critique and self-analysis in regards to his behaviour, actions, relationships and self-awareness.
Hold group music therapy sessions: Hold music therapy sessions in groups to encourage patients to explore sound and music, taking an active role in sessions by playing, singing, improvising and listening.
Advise on healthcare users’ informed consent: Ensure patients/clients are fully informed about the risks and benefits of proposed treatments so they can give informed consent, engaging patients/clients in the process of their care and treatment.
Play musical instruments: Manipulate purpose-built or improvised instruments to produce musical sounds.
Demonstrate a technical foundation in musical instruments: Demonstrate an appropriate foundation on the technical workings and terminology of musical instruments such as voice, piano, guitar, and percussion.
Comply with quality standards related to healthcare practice: Apply quality standards related to risk management, safety procedures, patients feedback, screening and medical devices in daily practice, as they are recognized by the national professional associations and authorities.
Assess music therapy sessions: Review and assess music therapy sessions to monitor their effectiveness and to facilitate the planning of any subsequent sessions.
Meet the requirements of social security reimbursement bodies: Ensure that the sessions are compliant with the requirements of the national social security bodies and that reimbursements are acceptable.
Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
Conduct musical ensembles: Lead the way in melodic, vocal or instrument sequences.
Design evaluation methods in music therapy: Design methods for evaluating and measuring client progress and the effectiveness of therapeutic strategies within music therapy.
Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
Perform musical improvisations in therapy: Improvise music as a reaction to what the patient is communicating, in order to enhance the individual nature of the relationship between therapist and patient. Improvise instrumentally, vocally, or physically to meet client’s therapeutic needs.
Design music therapy termination plan: Create the components of a music therapy termination plan, which provides conclusions on patient progress and the reason behind the termination of therapy.
Apply health sciences: Apply a broad range of bio-medical, psycho-social, organisational, educational, and societal aspects of health, disease, and healthcare to improve healthcare services and to improve quality of life.
Apply music therapy assessment methods: Apply specific music therapy procedures and methods for client evaluation and possible preliminary diagnosis.
Implement evaluation methods in music therapy: Implement methods for evaluating and measuring client progress and the effectiveness of therapeutic strategies.
Assess the patient’s therapeutic needs: Observe and assess the patient`s behaviour, attitudes and emotions in order to understand if and how their therapeutic needs can be met with a specific kind of therapy, collecting and analysing information on how the client makes, responds to, and relates to artistic stimulae. Relate this information to other aspects of the patient`s life.
Identify characteristics of music: Identify the elemental, structural, and stylistic characteristics of music from various periods and cultures.
Work in a multicultural environment in health care: Interact, relate and communicate with individuals from a variety of different cultures, when working in a healthcare environment.
Identify patients’ behaviours: Analyse and identify patient`s functional and dysfunctional behaviours.
Apply music therapy methods: Apply existing music therapy methods, techniques, materials, and equipment in line with the patient`s therapeutic needs and the treatment plan already created.
Promote inclusion: Promote inclusion in health care and social services and respect diversity of beliefs, culture, values and preferences, keeping in mind the importance of equality and diversity issues.
Interact with healthcare users: Communicate with clients and their carer’s, with the patient’s permission, to keep them informed about the clients’ and patients’ progress and safeguarding confidentiality.
Organise relapse prevention: Help the patient or client identify and anticipate high risk situations or external and internal triggers. Support them in developing better coping strategies and back-up plans in case of future difficulties.
Provide treatment strategies for challenges to human health: Identify possible treatment protocols for the challenges to human health within a given community in cases such as infectious diseases of high consequences at the global level.
Ensure safety of healthcare users: Make sure that healthcare users are being treated professionally, effectively and safe from harm, adapting techniques and procedures according to the person’s needs, abilities or the prevailing conditions.
Develop educational materials on music therapy: Develop materials to educate patients, caregivers, staff, and the public about music therapy.
Apply organisational techniques: Employ a set of organisational techniques and procedures which facilitate the achievement of the goals set. Use these resources efficiently and sustainably, and show flexibility when required.
Develop a collaborative therapeutic relationship: Develop a mutually collaborative therapeutic relationship during treatment, fostering and gaining healthcare users’ trust and cooperation.
Use therapeutic communication techniques: Use communication techniques in a therapeutic manner to support the patient during the therapy sessions, encouraging descriptions of perceptions, offering help, giving recognition, seeking clarification and summarising.
Apply context specific clinical competences: Apply professional and evidence based assessment, goal setting, delivery of intervention and evaluation of clients, taking into account the developmental and contextual history of the clients, within one`s own scope of practice.
Motivate patiens: Encourage the patient’s motivation to change and promote the belief that therapy can help, using techniques and treatment engagement procedures for this purpose.
Use music according to the needs of patients: Select and adapt music, musical instruments, and equipment to accord with the strengths and needs of the patients.
Work in multidisciplinary health teams: Participate in the delivery of multidisciplinary health care, and understand the rules and competences of other healthcare related professions.
Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.
Provide feedback on patient’s communication style: Provide feedback on, reflect, rephrase, and translate patients` communication.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of music therapist. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

Sexology: The characteristics and evolution of human sexual activity, sexual orientation and the sexual relationship for various group types such as teenagers, elderly or disabled people.
Neurophysiology: The medical specialty which is concerned with the study of the nervous system functionalities.
Cognitive behavioural therapy: The solution-focused approach to treating mental disorders oriented towards solving problems by teaching new information-processing skills and coping mechanisms.
Victimology: The relationships between victims and perpetrators, the frequency of victimization and the psychological effects it has on the victim.
Philosophy: The different philosophical systems, their basic principles, values, ethics, ways of thinking, customs, practices and their impact on human culture.
Pedagogy: The discipline that concerns the theory and practice of education including the various instructional methods for educating individuals or groups.
Psychosociology: The implications related to how an individual is behaving, depending on the group to which the individual belongs to and how this influences him/her.
Relaxation techniques: The various methods and techniques used to alleviate stress and bring peace and relaxation to the body and mind. This includes activities such as yoga, qigong or t`ai chi.
Psychoacoustics: The characteristics of sound perception from music or speech and their psychological effects on the individual`s hearing.
Psychoanalysis: The types of psychoanalytic theories and techniques that relate to the unconscious mental processes

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of music therapist. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

Ensure proper appointment administration: Set up a proper procedure to manage appointments, including policies related to cancellation and nonappearance.
Design musical events involving patients: Design and implement musical events involving patients in order to respond to their needs.
Employ foreign languages for health-related research: Use foreign languages for conducting and collaborating in health-related research.
Develop a repertoire for music therapy sessions: Develop and maintain a repertoire of music for music therapy according to age, culture and stylistic differences.
Employ foreign languages in care: Communicate in foreign languages with healthcare users, their carers, or services providers. Use foreign languages to faciliate patient care according to the needs of the patient.

ISCO group and title

2269 – Health professionals not elsewhere classified





  1. Music therapist – ESCO
Last updated on August 8, 2022

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