Almost everyone can respond positively to music and sound, and this forms the basis of the work of a music therapist. Music involves communicating, listening and sharing, so music therapists use it to help people with a wide variety of problems.
The purpose of music therapy is to help clients to make positive changes in their lives and to improve their emotional well-being. Music therapy can stimulate people, help them to understand and express themselves, and improve their communication skills and their relationships with others. It can also relieve stress and help people to become more confident.
For the treatment to be successful, the therapist must build up a relationship with their client. Music-making forms the basis for communication in this close relationship.
A music therapist's role is very different from a music teacher. Instead of teaching music, they encourage clients to explore the world of sound using a range of different musical instruments and their own voices. Generally, both the client and music therapist play an active role in each session. Music is powerful in that it can convey feelings without the use of words.
A music therapist's clients or patients might include people who have:
Therapists' clients could be any age, from pre-school children to elderly people. Some clients might be people who do not have particular problems, but want to use music therapy to find out more about themselves.
Working closely with clients to assess their individual needs is very important. Teenagers and elderly people will not enjoy or respond to the same kinds of music.
Music therapists might work with clients in groups or on a one-to-one basis. Where possible, music therapy sessions are held in music rooms, which are equipped with a range of good quality instruments, recording devices and CD players. The therapist usually agrees the length of the session with the individual or group.
Music therapists work closely with other professionals like nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers and social workers.
Music therapists working in schools, hospitals and prisons usually work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Full-time and part-time work is available. Those with private clients might work in the evenings or at weekends.
They work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, day centres, hospices, the community and the prison service.
A driving licence may be useful for those who need to travel to see clients.
A newly qualified music therapist working in the NHS might earn from £22,886 a year.
Over 500 music therapists and 100 student music therapists in the UK belong to the Association of Professional Music Therapists. There are opportunities in the NHS, local education authorities, social services departments, the prison service, and with some charitable and voluntary organisations. Some music therapists are self-employed.
Many therapists move into this career after working as music teachers or professional musicians, or from being active in different fields of work where their musical skills have previously been in the background.
In order to qualify as a music therapist, it is necessary to complete a training course approved by the Health Professions Council, and then to register with the council. All final music therapy training is now required to be of Masters degree standard. It is a state registration requirement that registrants must be at least 23 years old.
Students applying for music therapy courses need a minimum of three years in higher education with a degree or diploma, usually but not necessarily in music. All applicants will have to demonstrate a high level of musical skill. Course selectors will also assess their personal insight and suitability for training.
Music therapy courses approved by the Health Professions Council can be found on its website (www.hpc-uk.org).
Students may need to fund their way through the course themselves and information on funding sources may be available from the individual institutions.
Courses offer a mixture of theory and practical work. Theory can include lectures, seminars and workshops in areas like psychology, music therapy studies, group dynamics, improvisation and general musicianship. During the practical elements of the course, students spend time on placements in schools, hospitals or other centres, supervised by qualified music therapists.
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Music therapists need:
Promotion prospects for music therapists working in the NHS can be good.
There may be opportunities to progress to roles that are more senior or to head of department.
Association of Professional Music Therapists (APMT),
61 Church Hill Road, East Barnet,
Hertfordshire EN4 8SY
Tel: 020 8440 4153
Health Professions Council (HPC),
Park House, 184 Kennington Park Road,
London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre,
2 Lissenden Gardens, London NW5 1PP
Tel: 020 7267 4496
Working in the NHS:
NHS England: NHS Careers. PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
NHS Scotland: Careers and Opportunities in the NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.