The Journey of a Music Therapist: Internship 101

Kenzi Podell, a music therapist, is fresh off of passing her board exam to become a licensed music therapist. She learned a lot through the process of becoming a music therapist, and she wanted to share that hard-earned knowledge with others who are coming behind her in the process. Whether you’re just getting started on your own journey to becoming a music therapist, you know someone else who is, or you’re just curious as to what music therapists have to complete in order to practice music therapy, this blog series, “The Journey of a Music Therapist” should be helpful. 

Being part of a Music Therapy program is tough. It is around a four-and-a-half year program, and then you have to do an internship. An unpaid internship (for the most part)! It’s scary and the program seems never-ending, but eventually your internship comes, and you most likely will never want it to end. The tricky part? Nailing down that internship!

As a student, I remember asking all of the seniors 20,000 questions (okay, maybe just 10 or so) about the internship, the application process, what it was like, etc. Well, I am here to answer those questions to show you what to expect and what it takes to become a music therapist!

1. Where do I find internship opportunities? 

There are many internships available, so narrowing it down online is the best way to get started. Whether you want to stay in your home state, travel around, work with a specific population, etc., the easiest way to find an internship that matches your preferences is through the American Music Therapy Association website.

You can search by population, area, stipend and much more! It is super helpful. There are also sites that are “university affiliated,” which means they are probably not on that list and are really only known through your university. The best way to learn about those more local sites is to ask your professors.

2. How to fill out your application

The link above makes applications really easy! Most of the internship listings that you will find via the Music Therapy Association have the internship director’s email, as well as a website. My firstsuggestion is to visit the internship site’s website. Most of the time they will list exactlyhow they want the application. Some may have it up on the website, others may ask you to contact them for it, etc. If you cannot find the application information, your next best bet is to just email the contact. Don’t be shy; this shows that you are interested in their internship and also gets your name in their inbox!

Remember, you can only have four (4) applications out at a time! Choose wisely! Each application is going to look different. Be prepared to answer questions about why you chose Music Therapy, what population you have worked with, which clinical experience was most meaningful, and more fun “pageant-type” questions. Always re-read, proofread, and have a friend (or even better, a professor) look at your applications. Extra eyes will be able to find little mistakes or areas that may need some extra work. The biggest tip I can give you about applications is to be honeston them. They want to know who you are, so don’t be fake just to try to impress them!

3. How to nail your interview

Here is the scary part. Interviews are similar to applications, but they are in-person, over the phone, or sometimes via video chat. The best advice I can offer about the interview is something one of my professors told me: you are also interviewing THEM! Read up on what their organization does, ask them questions, and find out their values. Not only does this show that you did your research, but that you are interested in what they can provide YOU! Plus, you really don’t want to be stuck in a place that you dislike for six months. It is okayto finish an interview and reconsider the location. It is alsookay if you bombed the interview. You can never learn if you’re perfect, right? Stay relaxed, be authentic, be prepared, and be professional in your best way.

4. Dealing with rejection

I did not receive an offer for two of the three internships I applied for. I remember crying, skipping class, and shoving my face into a huge container of coffee ice cream. DO NOT DO THIS. You are better than that! Rejection is hard, and it is even harder when it is about something you are required to do to finish school. Being hard on yourself about it does nothing positive for your future. Turn rejection into an open door by thinking thoughts like, “Well, now I can apply for betterinternships!” Notice the word BETTER. It is their loss if you do not receive the internship, so the next place will be betterfor you and will be meant for you! I landed an internship that I would love to go back to. I realize now that I learned waaaaaaaaay more at this internship than I possibly would have at the others. It is a tough way of life, but life isn’t perfect. Trust the system.

P.S. When you hear back from one internship, you can then send out another application. You can only have four out at any time. 

5. Handling tough decisions

Congrats, you received two or more offers! Which one do you choose?! Go with your gut. Make a pros/cons list for each. Make sure to list things such as location, stipend, population and possible learning outcomes that come with each. Choose the one that will help you grow into the therapist you dream of becoming.

6. What to expect

When I asked the seniors about their internships, they always made it sound terrifying, like it was the hardest thing they have ever done in their entire life. I’ll be honest, it is—but it is not something to be terrified of. Stay on top of your work (because you are probably going to have a lot of work), be prepared, be on time, and be ready to work and grow. Expect to fail at some things (like trying to get a group of kids on the spectrum to walk in a circle; that doesn’t work—trust me), but also expect to get better at them (like putting down markers for the kiddos to follow around the circle). Work smarter, not harder. 

7. Things to keep in mind

  • Your supervisor knows what is best. DO. WHAT. THEY. SAY.
  • Fall on your face trying new things. The only way you get better is by practicing.
  • Get out of your comfort zone! 
  • You WILL get through it and you WILL want to go back (most likely).
  • Create lifelong relationships with your supervisors, coworkers, and other interns (if any). 
  • Sleep and self-care are super, super, super important. Please don’t forget to take care of yourself. (You can’t fill someone else’s glass if yours is empty!)

You will graduate and become an amazing music therapist one day. Take it one step at a time and be ready for change, rejection and most importantly, growth.

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