Real Work, Real Life

Music Therapist

October 18, 2023 Episode 34
Real Work, Real Life
Music Therapist
Show Notes Transcript

On this week's episode of Real Work, Real Life, I’m talking with Samantha, a board certified music therapist. Music therapy is not as common as many other therapies you might be familiar with, there are only a few thousand certified therapists in the US. If you’re not familiar with it, I found more information on the American Music Therapy website: Music Therapy is the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship, it can help clients do things like manage stress and pain, express feelings, improve communication. 

So if something in the therapy field interests you, and you also love music, this could be a path to consider. That said, there are some challenges in the field. Despite plenty of demand for this service, pay can be relatively low for the level of education and certification required, and like many other therapy fields, an unpaid internship is required. Services can be reimbursed through Medicaid but not typically private insurance, so the people who have access to this care is impacted by that.

We also talk a lot about the highs and lows of owning your own business, as well as Samantha’s side projects that are related to this work. That in itself is something to think about in your career choices. Many people want or need variety in their working hours or multiple streams of income. So when you think about a specific career path, you don’t necessarily have to be bound by the hours and pay of that one role full time, so many people find themselves kind of piecing together lots of things to create the life they really want. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it might be for you. The more people I speak with the more I find that the absolute key to finding work that fits into a joyful life is truly knowing yourself, what brings you joy, what causes misery, outside of the social expectations of what you *should* like and dislike, and finding the work that fits into that vision as well as your individual circumstances allow. The sooner you are able to know yourself like that, the happier you’ll be. So let’s get into it!

More about Music Therapy:

Links to learn more about Samantha's work:

Two other episodes to check out if you liked this one:

Child Psychologist:

Therapist in Private Practice:

If you like the show, please rate and review on iTunes and Spotify  (linked below) and please share with a friend! You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Tiktok. And if you’d like to be interviewed here, or there is a particular job you’d like to learn about, please reach out at


Transcripts are now available here:

Samantha Music Therapist

[00:00:00] Welcome to real work, real life, where I talk to real people about what they do for work and what that means for their lives. Today, I'm talking with Samantha, a board certified music therapist. Music therapy is not as common as many other therapies you might be familiar with. There are only a few thousand certified therapists in the us. If you're not familiar with it, I found more information on the American music therapy website. Music therapy is the clinical and evidence based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. It can help clients do things like manage stress and pain express feelings and improve communication. So if something in the therapy field interests you and you also love music, this could be a path to consider. That said there are some challenges the field, which we get into, despite plenty of demand for the service pay can be relatively low for the level of education and certification required. And like many other therapy fields and unpaid internship is still [00:01:00] required. Services can be through Medicaid, but not typically private insurance. So the people who have access to this care is also impacted by that. We also talk a lot about the highs and lows of owning your own business, as well as Samantha side projects that are related to this work. That in itself is something to think about in your career choices. Many people want or need variety in their working hours or multiple streams of income. So when you think about a specific career path, You don't necessarily have to be bound by the hours and pay and tasks of that one role full time. So many people find themselves kind of piecing together, lots of things to create the life they really want. It's certainly not for everyone, but it might be for you. The more people I speak with, the more I find that the absolute key to finding work that fits into a joyful life is truly knowing yourself. What brings you joy? What causes misery? All outside of the social expectations of what you think you should like and should dislike. [00:02:00] And so finding the work that fits into that vision, as well as your individual circumstances allow is the most important thing you can do. The sooner you're able to know yourself like that. The happier you'll be. So let's get into it. 

Emily: Thank you so much for being here, Samantha.

Samantha: Thank you for having me. I'm super excited.

Emily: So what do you do for work?

Samantha: I am a board certified music therapist, and I own a music therapy and behavioral therapy business.

Emily: That is so cool. So if somebody knew nothing about this, how would you kind of explain the work that you do, like a little elevator pitch of the work?

Samantha: Yeah, so I work with kids and adults with developmental disabilities and music therapy is just using music to work on non musical goals. So we use the music to create the benefit and create the change that we want to see.

Emily: That's amazing. How did you get into it? What interested you about it initially?

Samantha: So when I was in high school I was a planner, so I [00:03:00] decided I needed to know what I was going to major in college when I was a junior in high school. So I decided I wanted to do something in psychology, but I wanted to do something in music. I did not want to be a music performer. I didn't want to be a teacher.

And I'm like, well, what else is there? And then I randomly found music therapy on some college review website. And I said, yes. That is what I'm going to do because it had music and psychology and I could use music functionally,

which is what I wanted. 

Emily: Oh my gosh, that's such an interesting way of getting into it. I feel like I so rarely talk to someone who's like junior in high school, still doing it, still here for it. That's awesome. So how did you get to where you are now? Can you talk a little bit about what was required or helpful from an education certification perspective?

Samantha: Yeah. So to be a music therapist, you have to get a bachelor's degree or a master's equivalency in music therapy. And then you have to do an internship, and then you [00:04:00] have to pass a board certification exam, and then you have to take continuing education credits and renew your certification every five years.

So that was the education piece that I had to do, and then for the other piece, like, I just had to be a good musician, like, practice the piano, practice the guitar, I was forced to play the guitar in college, I hated it, but now I love it.

Emily: What brought the change from hating it to loving it?

Samantha: I think just practicing more and finally being comfortable with it. I still don't do bar chords because I broke my pinky and I just can't use it very well, but I do other chords like basic chords pretty good so I can, I can use those.

Emily: Oh, I love it. That's amazing. I'm very sorry about your pinky though.

Samantha: Thank you.

Emily: Was the internship paid?

Samantha: So most internships are not paid. I got 1, 000 for six months of work, which was

Emily: So not paid, 

Samantha: not paid.

basically. [00:05:00] You get pennies.

Emily: is it a six month full time internship and it's required?

Samantha: Yes, I worked 40 hours a week full time for six months.

Emily: That feels like a huge barrier to entry, I mean, obviously people make it work if you want to get into the field, but that's tough after completing your four year degree or master's equivalency to then have an unpaid internship. That's that's a tough ask.

Samantha: Yeah, it is a barrier to entry and they're talking about that in the music therapy community about how we can change that. Because a lot of people like for me, I had my parents support. They didn't pay for everything for me, but they paid for my car and my cell phone, which and my insurance, which was huge.

And then I worked 20 hours a week on top of my internship to pay for everything else.

Emily: Oh my gosh. So you must have been so well rested and relaxed that whole

Samantha: Oh yeah, for sure. Well, I came from a farm, like living on a farm. And so 60 hours a week is [00:06:00] nothing to

my dad. So I said, dad, I'm working 60 hours a week. He was like, and that's okay. And so for me, it wasn't this huge shock because I'd grown up working on the farm where I worked 12 to 15 hours a day, but it does get very tiresome to have to work that much.

And then so much unpaid labor.

Emily: Yeah. And you know, you know, when it's a means to an end that it's not going to be forever, but still, I I'm glad to see the conversation around unpaid internships as kind of troublesome barrier being discussed more places because who knows who might be able to pursue those careers if those internships were at least, you know, moderately well paid.

Samantha: Yeah, for sure. That's a huge discussion in the music therapy community right now.

Emily: Interesting. So what type of personality do you think does well in this job?

Samantha: I think all personalities do well because of the different clients that you work with. So, [00:07:00] for me, some clients that I work with, my personality does not mix with theirs, but then I have staff on my team that they work with them, and they are fantastic. So, I'm very loud, I'm dramatic, I'm... Just, I'm loud, okay, 

Emily: There's 

Samantha: just don't do well with that.

And then I have staff that are more on the quieter side. They can tone it down a little bit more and the clients were great with them but then some clients don't work well with them and they need someone like me.

Emily: Yeah. Someone for everyone. everybody needs a different kind of, practitioner for any sort of therapy work. So that's, great that there's kind of all kinds. So what do you make and what do your other benefits look like if you receive them for your work or able to provide them through your company?

Samantha: So I own the business. So I just. It's hard. I don't pay myself the same every month. it's hard because a lot of people don't pay their [00:08:00] bills on time and so then I just have to make sure that my staff are paid. So I get whenever we have a surplus, which is not a very good business model. I understand that I need to change it.

I'm trying but my staff get paid anywhere between 23 to 25 an hour. And then I did offer benefits. I offered insurance, like medical, dental, vision, and like one person wanted it, so we couldn't create a group plan.

Emily: Well, but that's amazing that you offered it to so many small business owners I know are not able to offer it. So you know, at least just making it on offer and you never know who would have been wanting to take you up on. So 


Samantha: Yeah, so I offer paid time off, sick leave, and I contribute to their retirement plans.

And if they contribute, then I contribute. It's kind of like that. It's not a 401k, but I [00:09:00] try to give my staff as many benefits as I can because they don't get paid that much. I wish I could pay them more, but Medicaid is the one that reimburses us, and you can only go so high

Emily: Right.

Samantha: reimbursement.

Emily: Do you find that most clients are Medicaid recipients or do you have any private pay or private insurance coverage?

Samantha: I would say 99 percent of the clients we see are Medicaid covered.

And private insurance does not cover it at all.

Emily: Wow. Interesting. Oh So I know you said that what you make really differs, but do you have like a guess of what you might make on a yearly basis or, or a monthly basis, whatever is easiest for you on average,

Samantha: I have not been working full time in my business. I will say that. I have been doing other side projects, like I have a podcast. I'm doing like courses for parent coaching and all of that. So, if I was working full time [00:10:00] in the business, I would be making more. I just want that caveat. Um.

Emily: Say what you think or what you hope to make for the full year with all of your side

gigs, because that's 

Samantha: So, 

Emily: of your employment.

Samantha: my goal is to make 80, 000 a year. That is what I'm working up to. Right now, in the business, I'm probably making between 12, 000 and 24, 000, which is so depressing.

Emily: Well, you know, I will say your experience is not alone. Talking to small business owners with employees that that weight of payroll can be really heavy and tough for a small business ownership. And I think there's so many amazing things about. Small business ownership but it's worthwhile just knowing for yourself if someone is thinking about this career path that there's really tough times.

And if you have staff, you want to be able to put them first from a paycheck perspective. So

Samantha: Yeah, you have to put them first, and I have to pay things like transportation, and then the taxes. [00:11:00] I did not... Realize how much you have to pay in taxes when you have employees. It's like 2, 000 every payroll period.

 But I was shocked

that that much comes out of everything for taxes, every payroll.

Emily: Yeah. So maybe the advice is seek counsel from a payroll or tax specialist as you're thinking about your larger business plan.

Samantha: Yeah, so I'm fortunate that I am supported by my husband. And so I can take these like leaps and just things that if I was supporting myself, I wouldn't be able to do this. I think I would. Work more in my business and not do the podcast and not do all the other stuff

But I can do that because he's supporting me if I was doing music therapy full time, then I would be making more But that's just what we've decided to do. But I would say being a business owner has been my life dream, [00:12:00] and it's worth it. All of this stuff is worth it. It's so awesome to know that you're supporting people, you're supporting your clients, you're supporting your employees, you can make your own schedule for the most part. I just love having the business and knowing that it's mine.

Emily: A hundred percent. Yeah. You're building your own thing. I, I hope going down that tangent of The trials of small business ownership don't make it seem like I don't, I think it's awesome. I think it's really cool what you're doing and there's a lot of beautiful things to building your own business.

Absolutely. So thinking about location. Do you find that this is really helpful to be like in a major metro area, or do you find that there's enough need for this type of service that even in a more rural or suburban area, there's enough people seeking your services?

Samantha: I know there are rural music therapists. I personally would not go to a super rural area. But we serve. Yeah. people in that area but driving to their home. I don't know why this came [00:13:00] about but most music therapists drive to people's homes and do music therapy in their homes. I don't know why that started but that's, how it goes and so everyone just expects that.

I think if you lived in a smaller area, it would be harder because you'd be driving so much to go to other people's homes. Where I drive, the farthest house that I drive to is 40 minutes away, but then I see multiple clients in that area and then I drive back.

Emily: That's fascinating. I wouldn't have expected that music therapists would do home visits, but it's interesting how norms develop around different. Lines of work. Wow. What are the hours like, and do you find that you and your staff are able to maintain good work life balance? are there specific hours that a lot of music therapists are often working during the week or is there more flexibility than that?

Right. Mm

Samantha: For me, in the population that I work with, we mostly work after school hours, which is hard for me during the school year because my [00:14:00] kids are in school and so I feel like I never get to see my kids. But during the summer, it's great because I can work in the morning. I don't know why I've set my schedule up where I work in the morning with clients and I work in the evening with clients.

And then in the middle of the day is my time to do the podcast, do admin work, all of that, go to networking opportunities. So that's the way I've set up my work schedule, but I give my employees their flexibility. I just give them the clients and then they Schedule the clients to whatever fits their schedule, but I would say it's hard to be able to do things in the evening because that's when the clients are out of school.

So that's when you have to work, so you'll be working. I work until, like, 7730 every night. Well, Monday through Wednesday, and then I don't work Thursday or Friday evenings.

But that's where it gets hard because people will want to do things. They're like, Oh, we're doing it after work at 6 30. Like, well, that's when my last session starts.

Emily: Right.[00:15:00] it's interesting. I talked to a child psychologist and she said it actually, the norm there had been developed that you took kids out of school. So a lot of times her work was more focused on the school day than she expected. So I think it's interesting to see how that differs and how we have different kinds of expectations.

But as long as you can kind of plan your time around it, I'm sure it does have challenges though. I'm just thinking about all the things that happen right after school in our life. But interesting.

Samantha: I hope that one day music therapists will be in the school. So you don't have to take your kid out of school. 

You know, like there's speech therapy occupational therapy, and physical therapy in the schools, in some school districts, there are music therapists in the school.

I want that to come to my area.

I think that would be amazing. And then just people put the value on music therapy that they do all the other therapies. cause it does have the same value. tangent on that.

Emily: That's a beautiful idea. I wonder if that'll get anyone, [00:16:00] anyone's wheels turning out there in school administration thinking about that as an add on, but I think that would be a wonderful thing to have in public schools. Walk me through your average day.

Samantha: I start my morning around eight 30, nine o'clock is my first session. And then I do a few sessions and then I either go to networking in the. Afternoon or I do I do admin work. I work on the podcast. I work on my course and I see my daughter and she's three. And then I go back to work around like 3.

and then I work until like 7. 30.

So I work a lot.

Emily: Can you kind of describe what a session might be like? Like what's an example of something you might be working on with a client and how might you approach it? I just would like to give people a sense of what music therapy might look like. hmm.

Samantha: right now that are between the ages of 2 and 4. And we're working on communication [00:17:00] skills. Just learning how to make sounds, and speak, and just communicate verbally. So what I do is we sing songs, and then they... Get that song in their head, and then they'll start singing the song, and then they'll start speaking the words after singing the song.

One of the things that we do is sing the Brown Bear Brown Bear book. I don't know why this works so well. But for the majority of clients that I've worked with, we take a few weeks and I sing the book with them a couple times during the session. And after a few weeks, they start singing the melody. And then after that, they'll start speaking the words of the book.

And it's just so amazing. these kids will go from not making any sounds at all to Speaking the words and I love it. I love it so much. And then we work a lot on social emotional goals and motor skills too. So for social emotional, I use the spot books like the [00:18:00] emotion spot books and we read a book and then we write lyrics to a song and then we write the song and then we'll play instruments.

based on what that emotion is. So that's some of the examples of things that we do.

Emily: Oh, that's such a beautiful example. That must be an amazing thing to witness 


Samantha: love it. 

Emily: Yeah. 

Samantha: the best thing that's ever happened in my career was this boy did not understand social skills. He did not have any friends. And he came up to me and I said, What do you want to work on? Because he was eight years old. He was old enough to tell me what he wanted to work on. I said, What do you want to work on?

And he said, I just want to make a friend. I want to have a best friend. Everyone else in my class has best friends. I want a best friend too. So I said, Okay, we're going to work on it. We worked on social emotional skills. We worked on how to understand body language, how to understand just spoken language, all of that.

And the best day was when he came up to me and said, I have a best friend. And he was [00:19:00] so excited.

Emily: Oh my gosh. That's amazing. Yeah, that's a pretty beautiful story to spend your working life. Making things like that happen for people. That's really, really,


Samantha: I love it.

Emily: So this is a little bit of a step back into the tactical, but how do you view the prospects for people getting into this job today?

Is there a lot of demand for it? do you view the market as a little saturated or, or what do you think for someone that was thinking about entering music therapy?

Samantha: There's a huge demand. I have been looking to hire a music therapist for over a year.

There's only, a couple thousand music therapists in the whole United States. So if you're looking to get in the field, you can find a job. Now, if the pay is what you want, that's a different story. But you will be able to find a job, for sure.

Emily: Wow. Oh, that's amazing. That's good to know.

Samantha: Yeah 

Emily: you've talked about a couple of things that were really beautiful that you loved about your job already, but do you have [00:20:00] anything to add that you really love about this field, especially if you think people might find it surprising?

Samantha: I love that just playing instruments with kids and adults, just playing the instruments, not doing anything else, not having any other goals, can have such a positive impact on their lives. So there's many things you can increase empathy, you can decrease cortisol, you can increase your immune system, decrease.

maladaptive behavior because you're overwhelmed, so decrease overwhelm. Just by playing instruments, you get that benefit. You don't even have to do, like, certain treatment plans, it's just playing the instruments. And I've learned to embrace that. When I first started music therapy, I was very behavioral oriented, where I was like, Okay, we're gonna do this goal, we're gonna work on this, and this child's gonna do this.

And I've learned to be more... Reliant on just using the music to help them with their emotions to help with [00:21:00] everything in their life And just playing music and not worrying about if they do so many trials correctly, you know? Just, just being with them and playing music is my favorite part.

Emily: Oh, my gosh. Yeah, that sounds really beautiful. Not to get into the negative too quickly, but is there anything that's tough about it that you either didn't expect at all or you just didn't anticipate how challenging it would be?

Samantha: I hate paperwork. I think every therapist will tell you that. That is the worst part of the job, and I just, I hate doing it. I, I don't know why, like you just have to write about your clients, but I hate doing it. So, 

Emily: or tablet 

Samantha: yeah, I do it on my computer,

Emily: Okay.

Samantha: and I, I don't know why, but every therapist I talk to too, that is the worst part of the job, is the documentation,

Emily: Well, I mean, it's not 


It's not the fun part. 

You know, it's certainly not the fun part. I I would [00:22:00] question the person that's like, I love paperwork. I'm sure they're, I'm sure they're out there, but yeah, I can see that. And it's probably much more than we would ever imagine.

Samantha: Yeah. Yeah. But that's really the only part of the job. Oh, and when kids, I mean, you just can't get a kid or adult to connect with you. That's really hard. not to take it personally.

Emily: Yeah,

Samantha: Really, you just have to find out how to get in their world. Like, you have to find out a way to connect with them, but sometimes that can be really challenging.

Emily: I'm sure. What do you hope to be doing more of or less of in the next five to ten years?

Samantha: I hope to be seeing more kids in my center space. So that I can see more kids and not spend as much time driving around. I also hope to be doing more speaking and parent coaching rather than just seeing individual [00:23:00] clients. 

I love speaking about music therapy. I love speaking about music and the benefits of it.

So I want to become more of a speaker and author. Rather than just using all my time doing music therapy. Music therapy is great, but just, this is just where I want to go in my life now.

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I, I can see why you would want to dedicate your time there. So this is the last question I have for you. What is one piece of advice generally about work that you would give your younger self?

Samantha: Practice the piano and guitar more. Improvising. Just be comfortable with improvising. I am not. I have a very concrete brain. It's not super flexible. And so improvising for me is so hard. But just take enjoyment on that and don't worry so much about judgment. No one's judging you. No one is even with me most of the time when I'm improvising.

So, just do it and don't worry about it. That's what I would tell my younger self.

Emily: I love that. [00:24:00] Yeah, it is funny when you're totally on your own and you're just trying to improvise and you still kind of. Can't, because you feel embarrassed or something. It's like, 

Samantha: Yeah, 

Emily: no one here.

Samantha: yeah, yeah, exactly. And then, when I'm playing with clients, they're like, oh, that was so cool! And I'm like, okay. So, yeah.

Emily: I love it. Well, that is great advice. How can people find out more about the work that you do?

Samantha: So follow me on Instagram. I'm at BoiseMusicTherapy and I have a podcast called Every Brain Is Different and that's at Every Brain Is Different.

Emily: Amazing. Okay. So I'm going to put those links all in the show notes too, so that everyone can find it. But thank you so much for being here, Samantha. It was great talking with you.

Samantha: Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

 Thanks for joining me. If you liked the show, please rate and review on iTunes and [00:25:00] Spotify. And please share with a friend. You can also follow the podcast on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, or ticktock. And if you'd like to be interviewed here or there's a particular job you'd like to learn about, please reach