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“Best” Jobs for the Student Music Therapist

by Kimberly on September 6, 2012 · 8 comments

I love getting questions from readers. More often than not, they inspire me to consider something I hadn’t thought of before or to see it through a different lens.

I got a question along those lines this week. Maven reader Kate wrote:

Before you were an MT-BC music therapist, what kind of jobs were you employed at? Do you feel that having a job that is related to mental health/education/health services is an important part of developing as a music therapist? I ask because currently I waitress, but am feeling that more experience related to my field may be more beneficial.

I held a variety of jobs as a student. Prior to becoming a music therapy student, I worked as a lifeguard and had a (very small) music studio. My longest standing job as a college student was in healthcare—I was a home health aide and certified nursing assistant. At other points during my training I worked as a server for a major restaurant chain and taught swim lessons at the local community center to teenagers and young adults with special needs.

At the time, I applied for the swim lesson and home health aide jobs for the very reason that Kate mentions above—it was a purposeful attempt to get more experience in a related field. And there were some benefits to having those jobs. I gained experience working with older adults and with persons with special needs, experiences I did not have up to that point (My home health aide days also gave me one of my favorite clinical stories that occurred before I was even a music therapist).

On reflection, though, and with some professional clinical experience under my belt, I’m not sure that was completely necessary. Let’s consider the waitress job. That’s not a healthcare or education-related field, but there are several skills that are learned and practiced when serving customers that transfer smoothly to skills you need as a music therapist:

  • Handling multiple needs and request simultaneously (multi-tasking)
  • Staying cheerful and pleasant when dealing with angry and frustrated customers (clinical skills)
  • Making last-minute changes to orders when customers change their mind (flexibility)

And that example only covers non-music-related jobs. For the gigging music therapy student, you can be honing your guitar, piano, voice, and/or percussion skills. Maybe you write songs or improvise on a regular basis. Maybe you facilitate group singalongs, drum circles, or direct a children’s choir. These are all ways that you can be developing and practicing those music abilities that transfer to the clinical musicianship skills you will need.

Consider, too, the possibility that it may be a good thing to have a break from clinical student-land. Working in a non-healthcare/mental health/education field may provide you with some experiences and perspectives that will benefit you as a professional music therapist.

Here’s the bottom line: If you are aware and self-reflection, you can make note of the skills and abilities you use in your job and make transfers as a student music therapist.

Ultimately, too, I think we are all on our own journeys. If Maven reader Kate is feeling to pull to look for a job more in line with an education or healthcare field, then I feel that is worth exploring. Good luck, Kate!


{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Megumi Azekawa September 6, 2012 at 2:03 pm

You’re so right, Kimberly– any working experience helps in some ways for your music therapy career.
BUT I’ve gotta say this working an admin. assistant for a music therapy contractual agency a.k.a. Neurosong was the best option I could ever imagine!!! Ha!

My two other working experiences which have been my assets are working as a CNA and a sales secretary. Working as a CNA, I learned how to interact with patients/clients and working as a sales personnel, I learned general customer service skills and how to “talk” what you are selling!
Megumi Azekawa´s last blog post ..Got Singing?

Rachelle Norman September 7, 2012 at 7:03 am

I think any job experience will be useful later on. I worked our university’s fundraising phone-a-thon one year and absolutely hated it, but it got my feet wet for cold calling.

I do wish that every therapist and health care professional would have an opportunity to work in direct patient care at least for a while – as a CNA, mental health tech, youth worker in a residential facility, home health aide. It helps you to gain a sense of what it’s really like for the clients through their entire day. Plus, we should all understand how demanding the jobs are for CNAs and other direct care workers!
Rachelle Norman´s last blog post ..Top Ten Ways To Use Music in Caregiving

JoAnn Jordan September 9, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Here’s another vote for any job experience informing your work. I would add that meeting and working with people from a variety of backgrounds will also assist you in later clinical work with clientele, employers, marketing,… It might provide exposure to music preferences you haven’t yet considered.
JoAnn Jordan´s last blog post ..Safe Sounds for Baby

Kimberly September 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm

JoAnn and Rachelle—you bring up some excellent points that I hadn’t thought of! Thank you for contributing 🙂 ~Kimberly

Maria Morris, MT-BC September 10, 2012 at 6:26 pm

In college, I was lucky enough to work as an ABA therapist at a couple of local schools and with a handful of wonderful families. I worked with one amazing behavior consultant and many other talented teachers and therapists that I learned so much from. My favorite parts of the job were listening to everyone’s great insights and learning how to set achievable and practical objectives that led to real meaningful progress toward important life skills. I highly recommend that any music therapy student who has the opportunity to work as an ABA trainer/therapist with a great team should take it.

Kyle Fleming September 12, 2012 at 4:35 am

As a fellow student, I didn’t start thinking about “related work experience” until about junior year of college. I’ve kind of just taken work where I could get it to save up some money. Because of that, my work and volunteer experience is all over the place. Focusing on work alone, I’ve been employed at a radio station (all four years of high school), a coffee shop, a Bible camp, a hydraulic cylinder factory, the campus music department, and my current position as a mental health rehab worker (until I start my internship in January). Never thought to consider related skill sets from each job.

Excellent post!

Kimberly September 13, 2012 at 9:27 am

@Kyle – Now we’ll just have to see how this new awareness changes your practice 🙂 ~Kimberly

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