Music therapy is an allied health profession which is practiced throughout Australia and in more than 40 countries around the world. It is the planned and creative use of music to attain and maintain health and well-being, and may address physical, psychological, emotional, cognitive and social needs of individuals within a therapeutic relationship.

Music therapy focuses on meeting therapeutic aims, which distinguishes it from musical entertainment or music education. People of any age or ability may benefit from a music therapy program, regardless of musical skill or background.

In the music sector model used in the MCA knowledge base, music therapy is listed under the support services section; however keep in mind that music therapists are also creators of music – composers, songwriters, musicians and singers – within their daily practice of music therapy.

A Registered Music Therapist (RMT) is someone who has completed an accredited course of training at a university. This qualification means that they have trained in various applications of music as a therapy for a range of people right across the lifespan. They have studied all aspects of music performance, history and theory, in addition to psychology, physiology, social theory and models of therapeutic intervention. During that course, students also complete substantial training with clients in a variety of clinical settings.

RMTs must keep their registration current with the Australian Music Therapy Association Incorporated (AMTA Inc) meaning that they are bound by the Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics of AMTA Inc. RMTs are proficient musicians (who play one or more musical instruments) and have a broad and detailed knowledge and understanding of music. RMTs may work as independent practitioners and/or as members of multi-disciplinary teams. No member of AMTA may describe himself or herself as a music therapist or his/her work as music therapy unless s/he holds current registration with the Association.

What Does a Music Therapist Do?

RMTs assess individuals and groups to identify abilities and needs and then develop goals and objectives that address the individual needs of these clients. RMTs select and employ appropriate musical techniques, methods and activities, and combine these with a therapeutic process that is well designed and planned to achieve program aims. RMTs then regularly evaluate sessions to ensure effective program outcomes.

Where Does a Music Therapist Work?

RMTs work in a diverse range of settings. Traditionally they have worked in special schools, nursing homes and long-term care facilities for rehabilitation or psychiatry. As health and education change, music therapy services are changing too. Aged care continues to be a large area of work and as Australia’s population of aged people increases there will be more work for music therapists. Other prominent areas are palliative care, working with people who are dying; acute health, working with adults and children in hospital; early intervention, working with families which include pre-school children with additional needs. Music therapists also work in mental health with adolescents and adults; rehabilitation, with people who have been in motor vehicle accidents; and adult disability, including institutional and community based care models. New areas of work include working with immigrants and refugees.

Are There Limitations on What Music Therapy Can Do?

Yes. While music therapy has been found to benefit a wide variety of people with many different needs, in many different settings, music therapists are trained to recognise the limits of the intervention. Limitations are assessed on a case by case basis and music therapists working as part of a multi-disciplinary team often refer clients with specialised needs to other members of the team, just as other team members may refer the client to the music therapist.

Therapeutic Uses of Music

Music therapy may address a wide range of client needs such as social, emotional, cognitive, psychological, physiological, behavioural, communication or spiritual needs.

Possible benefits may be to:

  • increase socialisation and reduce isolation or withdrawal behaviours by providing an engaging aesthetic experience
  • encourage exploration & expression of feelings, & provide emotional support through validation and music-assisted counseling
  • provide cognitive stimulation, improve word recall, stimulate long-term memory skills, and maintain existing cognitive skills
  • improve motivation; increase self-esteem; promote opportunities for choice & control; provide an uplifting & enjoyable form of therapy
  • reduce nausea, anxiety, perception of pain, heart rate
  • reduce wandering, restlessness, and inappropriate or difficult behaviours whilst promoting appropriate behaviours
  • improve verbal & non-verbal communication and self-expression
  • provide spiritual exploration and expression.

Music Therapy may be used for clients experiencing any combination of the following:

  • coping difficulties, withdrawal, isolation
  • depression
  • difficulties or frustration expressing or communicating thoughts, feelings, needs and desires
  • difficulties exploring spirituality and/or spiritual issues
  • complex pain problems (physical and/or emotional)
  • persistent unexplained nausea and/or vomiting
  • anxiety and fear; disorientation and/or confusion
  • insomnia
  • extreme physical tension
  • aphasia, dysphasia
  • cultural and/or language difficulties
  • difficulty with medical and nursing interventions
  • sensory/cognitive/communication impairment

What Happens in Music Therapy Sessions?

Music therapists draw on various methods of music making depending on client needs including live performance of music or structured songs, playing instruments, song writing and/or lyric substitution, music and imagery and improvisation. Other music therapy techniques could include listening to pre-recorded music, relaxation, movement to music, musically-assisted life review, music-sensory activities, music in validation therapy and the use of music for specific physical health issues.

The music therapist will then build a therapeutic relationship over time with the client through the use of one or more of these music therapy techniques.

General Information

The Australian Music Therapy Association began in 1975. Its purpose was to promote music therapy as a profession to the Australian general public. To this end, the process of Registration and the Code of Ethics were established in that first year to create firm professional basis on which to develop the profession.

These days the Association has several purposes which are evident in the activities of its committees and branches. The largest event of the year continues to be the national conference which actually preceded the Association itself. In 2010 the theme of ‘With Music in Mind’ explored the links between music and neuroscience, with keynote speaker Dr Lauren Stewart. In 2005 Brisbane was host city for the World Congress of Music Therapy bringing together about 500 delegates from 40 countries around the globe. Korea hosts the World Congress of Music Therapy in 2011.


AMTA Inc caters for a range of memberships. Associate members receive the Australian Journal of Music Therapy (annually), Pulse newsletter (three times per year plus an AGM edition) and are eligible to attend AMTA events for a discounted fee. At state and territory level, branches and interest groups offer members workshops, information evenings, and opportunities for networking with others who are interested in music therapy in the Australian context. Additional services for RMTs include professional registration, opportunities for further training through professional development, and the sharing of resources and ideas through the RMT page of the AMTA website.

Associate Membership is open to anyone interested in music therapy. A range of services is offered to all members. Associate membership fees are currently $A129 per annum, or $A71 per annum for students of AMTA Inc accredited courses. You may become a general or student member by contacting the Australian Music Therapy Association through . Those members who have completed an AMTA Inc accredited training course are eligible to apply for registration with the Association.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Practice Music Therapy?

Music therapists undertake an accredited course of training at a university. The course is now at Masters by Coursework level in all Australian Universities. There are currently several universities in Australia offering courses that are accredited by the AMTA Inc (see below). Completion of an accredited course leads to registration with AMTA Inc. This qualification means that a person has trained in various applications of music as a therapy for a range of people right across the lifespan. They have studied all relevant aspects of music performance, history and theory, as well as psychology, physiology, social theory and models of therapeutic intervention. During that course, students also undertaken substantial clinical training with clients in a variety of settings.

Music Therapy Courses

The National Education Committee currently accredits courses at four universities. To be qualified as a Registered Music Therapist (RMT), students must complete one of the accredited courses listed below. All details of entrance criteria, course content and fees are available directly from those institutions. In addition to the Masters by Coursework, research Masters and PhD degrees are offered at the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, and the University of Western Sydney for Registered Music Therapists wishing to undertake clinical research. The University of Melbourne also offers advanced level training for Registered Music Therapists in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music. A combined online/intensive mode learning is available at the University of Melbourne for those living outside of the three capital cities where music therapy training is offered – called the Blended Learning Masters by Coursework in Music Therapy.

The institutions where it is possible to study an accredited training course are: The University of Melbourne

  • Masters by Coursework – On Campus and Blended Learning
  • Masters by Research (RMTs only)
  • PhD

The University of Queensland

  • Masters by Coursework – On Campus and Blended Learning
  • Masters by Research (RMTs only)
  • PhD

The University of Western Sydney in Partnership with Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia

  • Masters in Creative Music Therapy
  • PhD

What Are the Entry Requirements for Training?

People enter music therapy training from a variety of backgrounds. Students entering straight from secondary schooling will need to satisfy the university’s regular undergraduate entry requirements. People coming to training from other professional backgrounds are also required to meet strict criteria. These are available from each of the accredited post-graduate courses.

Areas of Work

Training in music therapy prepares RMTs to work with all populations of people across the lifespan. Age groups could be broken down like this:

  • Infant (0-1 year)
  • Toddler (1-3 years)
  • Child (4-12 years)
  • Adolescent (13-25 years)
  • Young Adult (26-40 years)
  • Adult (41-65 years)
  • Older adult (+65 years)


Music therapists can work in a variety of clinical settings including aged care facilities (in particular dementia-specific care), private practice, acute care or rehabilitation hospitals, specialist services, mental health facilities, special schools, palliative care or purpose built music therapy centres. Community based music therapy programs may exist in a range of places including education facilities, private homes, community (arts) venues, hospices, day centres, churches, prisons and community support programs for the disability or mental health sectors or early intervention programs. Some RMTs work in consultative roles or conduct professional development workshops, or work in the education of music therapy students. Many RMTs work in more than one setting, sometimes within the one organization, and there are some crossovers of settings within clinical populations.

Employment Prospects

Music therapists have gained an excellent reputation in recent years for the professionalism with which they approach this work. This means that they are sought after for a great variety of work. However, the funding dollar is still difficult to secure, and many programs are dependent upon attracting external funding. Many music therapists combine a number of positions in different facilities, many also engage in other music-related work e.g. as musicians, accompanists, studio teachers.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have any questions about music therapy, try the FAQ page of the AMTA Inc website to see if you can find the answer there.

The AMTA website is a wealth of information if you would like to know more about music therapy events, current journal articles, related organizations and music therapy around the world.

This makes no claim to be an exhaustive collection of links to music therapy related information on the web, but it’s a good start! The categories of links include:

  • Music therapy organisations
  • Clinical and educational programs
  • Literature
  • Publishers and book distributors
  • Journals
  • Bulletin boards
  • News items


Rachel Nendick. Submitted 26 October 2006.

Australian Music Therapy Association.

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