What is Music Therapy? Elevator Speeches and Quick Pitches

 by Annie Roberson, MT-BC

If you’re a music therapist, a music therapy student, or someone who loves a music therapist, you’ve probably found yourself trying to quickly explain music therapy to a bewildered conversation partner in a taxi, at the grocery store, etc. In situations like these, having a prepared quick pitch or elevator speech about music therapy can go a long way to educate and advocate for the profession of music therapy! 

Read to the end for a free download of printable wallet cards and phone backgrounds to assist you in your pitches!

What is Music Therapy?

First, let’s take a look at the American Music Therapy Association’s official definition of music therapy:

“Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” (AMTA, 2010).

There’s a lot of good stuff to dissect in that meaty paragraph! Let’s break it down.

Evidence-Based Use of Music

This means that clinical music therapy is guided by the best available scientific research. In other words, we have the data to support the results we see in music therapy sessions.

Individualized Goals

This means that we tailor each session to our clients’ unique needs and preferences – we’re not necessarily playing Mozart to relieve stress all day long! 😉

Within a Therapeutic Relationship

We’re not just making music to have fun – although we certainly do have lots of fun! – we’re actively working with our clients to address therapeutic goals like cognition, communication, socialization, emotional regulation, and motor skills.

A Credentialed Professional

To be considered a music therapist in the United States, an individual must pass the board examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists in order to receive their MT-BC (Music Therapist – Board Certified) credential. Once an individual has passed their exam and earned their MT-BC credential, they are officially a music therapist and are eligible to provide music therapy services!

Did you know? The Certification Board for Music Therapists is an independent association that is a member of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) and accredited by their National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCAA), making the CBMT a leader in the national credentialing field, particularly for professions with between 5,000 and 10,000 practitioners (CBMT, 2019).

Completed an Approved Music Therapy Program

Yes, we really did go to school for this! There are hundreds of collegiate music therapy programs across the United States approved and regulated by the American Music Therapy Association. In order to even sit for the board exam, an individual must earn a degree from one of these approved programs, taking classes in music, psychology, music therapy techniques and applications for various settings and populations, as well as 1200 hours of clinical training spread out over the course of a degree and an internship typically lasting at least six months.

Want to learn more about becoming a music therapist? Check out this blog post!


Creating Your Elevator Speech

Chances are, you won’t have time to explain each part of the official definition of music therapy to a curious colleague in one elevator ride. That’s why having shorter, more digestible explanations in your back pocket is so crucial! 

I like to break my elevator speeches down to a bare-bones definition and throw in shorter stories or examples if I have time. I find that when people ask what music therapy is, often what they’re really asking is “what does your job actually look like?” 

Here are the quick-pitch “elevator speeches” I have ready to explain music therapy in a short amount of time.

Length of Elevator Ride: One Floor

“I’m a board-certified music therapist! I use music to help people work on their non-musical therapeutic goals like communication or motor skills.”

Length of Elevator Ride: Two Floors

“I’m a board-certified music therapist! I use music to help people work on their non-musical therapeutic goals. Just this morning, I used drumming to help my client with cerebral palsy strengthen her arms and extend her reach!” 

Length of Elevator Ride: Three Floors

“I’m a board-certified music therapist! I use music to help people work on their non-musical therapeutic goals. Just this morning, I used drumming to help my client with cerebral palsy strengthen her arms and extend her reach! Music therapists work with people across the lifespan from NICU babies to hospice care to address goals like communication, cognition, socialization, emotional regulation and expression, and motor skills.”

When the Elevator Gets Stuck

Woohoo! You have a chance to answer more in-depth questions about the incredible work that music therapists do every day! I like to follow each answer with some more personal information or experience, and a good story or two if the conversation permits to really solidify that personal connection.

Music Therapy FAQs

Here are my answers to some common music therapy FAQs:

Who do music therapists work with?

Music therapists work with all sorts of people! From NICU babies, folks with disabilities, people in neurological rehab, those in hospice care, and everyone in between, as long as someone is motivated by music and would benefit from working towards therapeutic goals, it’s likely that they might be a candidate for music therapy.

I work primarily with adolescents and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as Autistic individuals.

What are therapeutic goals?

Therapeutic goals are skill areas that therapists and clients work together to strengthen. Music therapists address therapeutic goals including communication, socialization, cognition, emotional regulation and expression, motor skills, and spiritual skills, when appropriate.

For example, I use music to strengthen communication skills by prompting my clients to fill in the blanks to their favorite songs using vocalizations, sign language, and AAC technology! 

Where do music therapists work?

Music therapists work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation facilities, correctional facilities, private practices, and mental health facilities, just to name a few.

I work for a music therapy private practice and work mostly in the home health setting, traveling all over DFW to do music therapy with individual clients in their homes.

I’ve never heard of music therapy before! Is it a new profession?

People have been discussing the healing benefits of music since Plato and Aristotle, but music therapy in America can trace much of its professional growth to the period surrounding World Wars I and II when it became clear that returning veterans responded very well to music in their physical and emotional rehabilitation. The first collegiate music therapy program was actually established at Michigan State University in 1944!

Read more Music Therapy FAQs from the American Music Therapy Association here!

Start spreading the good news!

With your elevator speeches and FAQ answers prepared, you can confidently initiate conversations about music therapy and help advocate for the work that board-certified music therapists are doing every day!

Ready to put your skills to the test?

Grab your “Ask Me About Music Therapy” shirts and totes now from the Fort Worth Music Therapy Fund and help expand access to music therapy services in Northwest Texas while educating the public about our profession!

Annie Roberson, MT-BC

Music Therapist – Board Certified


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