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Career in Music Therapy

The music therapist assists the client in addressing particular problems and challenges through the process of music-making in a safe environment.

Last updated: 20 January 2021

This is not the same as teaching an instrument, rather building a non-verbal relationship, with client and therapist improvising music so that communication can be achieved.

The music therapist strives to help the client reach a state of self-acceptance and emotional release. Playing instruments, singing and improvising music can be strong tools for self-development — the rewards are life-affirming and can be life-changing.

Music therapy in the UK

There are around 600 qualified music therapists in the UK, working in such areas as mental health, learning difficulties, behavioural disabilities, addiction, neurological problems, HIV/ AIDS, sexual abuse, eating disorders and in prisons and hospices.

Before considering training as a music therapist, it is essential to become proficient on your instrument and to learn how to read and compose music. Music therapy is an MA level course and, due to the amount of academic work involved, a BA or BSc is usually a prerequisite.

Standards are very high and, although it is unusual for people without degrees to be enrolled, if you are an exceptional musician with a large amount of life experience, you may be considered without a degree.

The career path

This is one area of music employment where older students are often especially welcome. However, music therapy is not a career path for the fainthearted, as students not only study all the psychoanalytical subjects, such as Freudian and Jungian psychology, they must also go through rigorous self-analysis. This important precaution is so that, when faced with a client who may be challenging, the therapist maintains neutrality and does not bring his or her own ‘baggage’ to a session.

Although you may specialise in one area, you will receive work placements in many different areas during training, such as special needs or palliative care. Many music therapists are hired full-time by the NHS, but often work part-time in another field.

You must train on an official course before you can legally call yourself a music therapist. Once accredited, you must be licensed with the Health Professional Council (HPC) before practising as a music therapist, which protects the public and the therapist.

Music therapy contacts

For more information about taking up a career in music therapy, please contact the following organisations:

  • British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) - a member association distributing information and news on music therapy in the UK.
  • Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy - a charity which supplies music therapy training to PhD level, funds some student bursaries and features in-house clinical experience.
  • Health Professions Council - a regulator protecting clients and patients who use the services of the health professionals.