Music Therapy in the U.S.

Music therapy was recognized as a profession in the United States mid-way through the twentieth century and has since grown considerably, with professional organizations and individuals registered as music therapists.

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Music therapy education

Michigan State University introduced the first undergraduate degree program in music therapy in 1944, which marked the beginning of the practice in its current form in the United States. After this time, several other universities and educational institutions have adopted similar programs, including the University of Kansas, which introduced the first graduate degree program in music therapy.

Currently, there are undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degree programs for music therapy running in the United States. These programs are approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) for graduates to be considered as music therapists who may practice in the United States.

Professional associations

The National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) was founded in 1950 as a professional association for music therapists to collaborate and progress the profession. The American Association for Music Therapy (AAMT) was a similar group founded in 1971.

In 1998, two main professional bodies for music therapists, NAMT and AAMT, merged together to form one association to become the AMTA. This is the main professional association in the United States today.

However, there are a number of other national organizations that involve music therapy in the Unites States. These include:

  • Institute for Music and Neurologic Function
  • Nordoff-Robbins Center for Music Therapy
  • Association for Music and Imagery


The AMTA played a notable role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, with many music therapists and students from across the United States traveling to New Orleans to help in the medical relief following the natural disaster.

The strategic plan of the AMTA for the future involves research into the practice of music therapy and the role it can play in healthcare. This may promote the inclusion of music therapy care into health insurance policies and plans in the future.

In recent decades, the therapeutic use of music in the United States has grown significantly due to higher levels of interest and the number of therapists entering the profession. The AMTA is seeking to meet this demand and plans to continue to promote the services that music therapists can offer to overall health and wellbeing.

Career path and certifications

There are several prerequisites that must be fulfilled for an individual to be accepted into a music therapy program in the United States. For example, the individual must be proficient in musical skills and often has an undergraduate degree in a music-related field, although this is not essential.

At the completion of the degree, the graduate will have proficiency in:

  • Music performance
  • Musical theory
  • Music history
  • Reading music
  • Improvisation
  • Health assessment
  • Health communication

The focus on each of these elements and the process in which they are taught in the program varies widely according to the objective of the educational institution.

Practicing music therapists in the United States may be awarded as a Certified Music Therapist (CMT), an Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT), or a Registered Music Therapist (RMT). However, these certifications were predominantly in use until 1998, and have now been superseded by the Music Therapy Board Certification (MT-BC).

My Journey to Music Therapy | Becoming an MT-BC

To be certified as an MT-BC music therapist, the individual must initially complete a music therapy program accredited by the AMTA, undertake an internship in music therapy, and pass the Board Certification Examination in Music Therapy. Registered music therapists must undertake continuing education at least every five years to maintain the credential.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Susan Chow

Written by

Susan Chow

Susan holds a Ph.D in cell and molecular biology from Dartmouth College in the United States and is also a certified editor in the life sciences (ELS). She worked in a diabetes research lab for many years before becoming a medical and scientific writer. Susan loves to write about all aspects of science and medicine but is particularly passionate about sharing advances in cancer therapies. Outside of work, Susan enjoys reading, spending time at the lake, and watching her sons play sports.


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