Alumni Interview with Dr. Krystal Demaine, PhD MT-BC

Name: Dr. Krystal Demaine, PhD MT-BC

Graduation Date: 2001

Major: Music Therapy 

Professional Title: Board Certified Neurologic Music Therapist and Professor of Creative Arts Therapy 

Employer: Self-Employed at North Shore Music Therapy Services and Endicott College

What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of in your career thus far?

The accomplishment that I am most proud of in my career has been the ability to create music therapy opportunities in the market that didn’t previously exist. After completing my music therapy degree at Berklee (which included 1,040 hours of clinical internship post course work), I decided that I wanted to start a private practice close to my home on the North Shore in Massachusetts.

I put together my own music therapy press kit and sent it to any possible agency that I thought could benefit from music therapy (this included schools, nursing homes, hospitals, community health centers, and mental health facilities). Quickly, I was offered 10 hours a week between a residential treatment school for adolescents and two group homes for intellectually disabled adults. The majority of the places I sent my information to had never heard of music therapy before.

I offered free informational in-services and was willing to travel any day, any time, and anywhere (within certain boundaries) to provide music therapy. Gradually, my small practice had snowballed into a booming 50-hour-a-week practice. Now, working for nearly 13 years in private practice as a music therapist, I have given much of my work to new music therapists looking to build their own careers. Once I earned my master’s degree, and later doctoral degree, I focused much of my energy on building new courses in music and creative arts therapy for four different colleges and universities. I also have a deep passion for researching and presenting new information on the deep impact of music therapy and exploring its profound and positive effect on the lives of groups and individuals. I feel proud for being part of a profession that has allowed me to create new opportunities; to plant seeds, watch them grow, and personally develop my sense of self through nourishing an enjoyable lifelong profession. 

What are the most challenging aspects of your current job? 

I have a sincere passion for the work I do as a music therapist, researcher, and professor, and have found the work to be a way of life. For me, music exists in all aspects of myself and music therapy is my way of being. I am often seeking more challenge in my work as a music therapist and look for ways to connect with others through research and teaching collaborations. I find myself challenged with new topics to research and colleagues to collaborate with on such projects. The field of music therapy is vast and can offer many opportunities from clinical work to teaching and research, performance, and song development. I think that challenges can be found anywhere if one is seeking them.  

What would you say are the top requirements (skills, mind-set, etc.) for someone entering this line of work? 

The fundamental aspect of being a music therapist is to let go of ego and be able to support individual needs of the populations one is helping. It is core to be a solid musician so that musicianship comes from within and that the focus can be on the client you are helping rather than personal judgment on the therapist’s part. It is also important to have a willingness and openness to working with people who have diverse human needs and situations. Someone who is a good musician, spontaneous, creative, patient, a great listener, and can leave their personal stuff at the door and be fully present to another person’s needs and drives will be very successful in the field of music therapy.

What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?

A normal day in my private music therapy practice includes travel to various locations to work with a variety of different people. I usually start my day with a good breakfast and a yoga practice to prepare my back from carrying around my guitar and drums all day and for sitting for a couple of hours while I drive in my car.

For a traveling music therapist like myself, it is important to have a reliable car with a good sound system, and space to hide music therapy supplies (musical instruments, guitar, props, scarves, stretch bands, etc.). On Wednesday, for example, I leave my house at 10:00 a.m. and drive to a school to work with a 12-year old student who is visually impaired, uses a wheelchair, and is nonverbal. I use neurologic music therapy interventions to help facilitate reaching and locating sounds, making choices, and improving sensory integration. All of the student’s goals are written into an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) at her school and are approved by her IEP team. 

After a 50-minute session I return to my car to drive to another school where I provide 30-minute music therapy groups to four classrooms of children aged 3-18, diagnosed with autism. The music therapy group sessions are designed to work on communication, motor coordination, and social skills through drumming, singing, songwriting, and moving with music.

After an hour-and-half lunch break at home, with time to walk my dog, I return to the road to visit a group home where I offer two 50-minute music therapy sessions to adults with intellectual disabilities. The adults form small, four-person groups and participate in songwriting, instrument sharing, stretching and moving, jamming, and singing.

I end my music therapy work that evening by visiting the hospice and leading a grief support group for children who have experienced the death of a close family member. In the grief group we do everything from playing musical chairs to writing and recording songs, to storytelling with toys and music, to lyric analysis of precomposed songs.

When I return home from the music therapy day, I have a nice dinner and then go to band practice, where I play flute with two different community bands. Playing music with others (nonclinically) has offered me a social experience that I do not find in my music therapy practice and gives me an opportunity to maintain my personal musicianship. I think playing music for the self is essential to any music therapist’s career balance. 

What would be a reasonable salary range to expect if I entered this field? What is the long-term potential? 

Music therapists’ salaries range across the country by level of training (bachelor's, master's, doctoral degree) and by the line of work that the therapist is involved in. At the moment, the average hourly rate of a music therapist in Massachusetts is approximately $65, and this can differ based on years of experience and training. Salaries can range from $40,000 to $100,000 annually or more. As a professor, I maintain a private music therapy practice two days a week, which offers a great supplement to my teaching income and keeps me steeped in the current trends of the field.

This industry has changed dramatically in the past five years. What have you seen from inside your company? Where do you think the changes will happen in the next five years?

With the advancement in technology, music therapists are becoming more technologically savvy. Some supervision is now being provided via Skype, or other computer-based mediums; nonverbal individuals are using speech communications though applications that can be plugged into iPads, and scientists are able to more precisely see how music is impacting the brain. I think the two hottest topics in music therapy right now are music and the brain as well as music and wellness with trauma. Science is supporting these two fields tremendously. I also see a future in serving more veterans of war and elderly populations. There will likely be a focus on music in end-of-life and beginning-of-life care to aid in development and more peaceful death. The profession currently starts at the bachelor’s degree level and the American Music Therapy Association has proposed moving the profession to a master’s degree practice only. In the future, I can see more music therapists with master’s degrees and eventually doctoral degrees. I also see the profession spanning more international routes and therapists embracing opportunities to bring Western-style music therapy more globally. 

How has your Berklee experience prepared you for what you are doing today?

Berklee prepared me fully for a profession in the field of music therapy. The music therapy faculties at Berklee are superior and diverse to many other programs. The music therapy professors have propelled the program to be the best in the country. With a Boston location, students have the opportunity to experience five different practicums with a variety of supervisors, all board-certified in music therapy and who work in the top facilities in the country. All Berklee music therapy professors maintain their own practice and musicianship, which provides a wonderful model for students to learn from. The music therapy program has developed and expanded immensely since I was a Berklee student (1997-2000), where there are now new courses that follow current medical trends, new internship sites, new faculty, unique workshops, and international travel opportunities. While I was a student at Berklee, the music therapy program was just beginning and I felt part of a supportive community that genuinely cared about my academic and future professional career. Now that I am a professional in the field, I continue to feel part of the Berklee community. My professors have become my colleagues yet continue to be my mentors and source of inspiration.  

If you could offer just one piece of career advice to students, what would it be?

For those interested in going into the field of music therapy, it would be wise to go in with not only your passion for music but to have a sincere desire to use music to help others. It is important to go into the field willing to work with people who have a variety of different needs. People usually become interested in the helping professions from a single personal experience, but if you embrace the opportunity to be at Berklee, you will have the chance to work with so many different populations; try not to limit yourself to one. Keep a passionate heart and open mind, and you will have a top-of-the-line education that will give you a promising and rewarding career.