Naomi Klassen, 23, had a rich musical education growing up in Winnipeg, MB; she joined every ensemble offered at her small high school, and took piano lessons outside of school, earning her Grade 8 Piano certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music. She first learned about music therapy when she was given a pamphlet from Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) at a career fair in her Grade 12 year and soon realized what a good fit this could be for he

“I knew I loved music but I did not love performing and I wasn’t drawn to a career in teaching. After graduating high school, I realized that the music experiences I enjoyed most were relational and purposeful like singing with my grandmother who had dementia and leading worship in church,” she said. “Music therapy has this sweet combination of quality music for evidence-based purposes in counselling and psychology.” 

For Mariah Blaine-Longo, 23, it was the connection between music therapy and psychology that first piqued her interest. Mariah, who grew up in Calgary, AB and St. John’s, NL, was a voice performance student at McGill University when she first learned about music therapy in a psychology class.

“I knew in my third year when I was still in a performance music degree that the culture and the nature of being a professional musician was not a good fit for me,” she told us. “I began studying psychology and felt that the love I had for music could be integrated with my interest in learning more about psychology by going into music therapy… I’ve always wanted to help people and find that music therapy is able to fulfill this part of my purpose more directly and clearly than in vocal performance.”

Helping others is also what first brought McKenna Ogg, 23, to music therapy. Originally from Selkirk, MB, McKenna grew up in a family of music lovers, and participated in choir and band throughout her school days, eventually majoring in voice at CMU. Her experiences volunteering with Special Olympics Manitoba led her to research career options that would allow her to work with people of varying abilities; music therapy “seemed like the perfect way to combine my interests and strengths.”

Though McKenna, Naomi, and Mariah are able to draw on their passion for music in this field, and engage in music-making with clients, they all stress that music therapy is goal-oriented in nature, and that music therapists are not entertainers. As Naomi told us, this profession is a form of care work, in which music is used as a tool to care for others.

According to the Canadian Association of Music Therapists (CAMT), the professional body responsible for certifying music therapists (also known as MTAs – Music Therapist Accredited), “Music therapy is a discipline in which credentialed professionals use music purposefully within therapeutic relationships to support development, health, and well-being.” 

MTAs use singing, playing instruments, rhythmic activities, listening to music, and other intervention techniques according to the needs of each client. As Mariah explains, “Everything that we do in session is purposeful, and for the pursuit of a client’s therapeutic goals. Yes, music is an amazing tool, and can be very fun. However, music therapists are not just volunteer musicians, we are actually an integral part of a client’s multidisciplinary health care team.”  

Dealing with misconceptions about the profession is only one of the challenges these women have dealt with on their path to becoming certified MTAs. Naomi described the challenge of having four semesters of practicums in different locations, while Mariah stated that it can be difficult to balance the intense clinical work with a rigorous academic program. For McKenna, who is currently an intern, the biggest challenge has been forming her identity as an individual and a therapist, and, as she puts it, “to untangle where I end and my work begins.”

Despite these challenges, all three women find music therapy to be a highly rewarding and worthwhile pursuit, especially because of the connections made with clients and colleagues. As McKenna said, “The most rewarding aspect of being in the music therapy program has been getting to interact with people from many walks of life in a highly personal way. The therapeutics alliances I have formed with clients and their families through my practicum and internship placements are the most amazing part of the job for me.”

For other young people interested in pursuing a career in music therapy, McKenna, Naomi, and Mariah offer the following advice:

  • Learn as much as you can about it, including the different frameworks used by music therapists 
  • Make sure you are prepared for the emotionally demanding nature of the work
  • Be prepared to work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, and correctional facilities
  • Expose yourself to as many different styles of music as possible
  • Try to play as many styles as possible on different instruments
  • Brush up on music theory and sight reading
  • Ensure you have a strong background in piano, voice, and guitar

Further information on the requirements for becoming an MTA and Canadian schools that offer music therapy programs can be found on the CAMT website