I’m sure you’d agree that listening to music can sometimes be very therapeutic. Sticking on a bit of ‘Icelandic chill out’ music might relax you, while listening to an absolute belter like Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ might give you a much-needed pick-me-up, and blasting out some ‘youth crew’-style hardcore with the volume turned up to 11 might help you to release some frustration.
But have you ever considered the therapeutic potential of making music? What’s more, did you realise that music can be used in a clinical setting to help people with emotional, physical and social issues? Welcome to the world of music therapy!
Music therapists help people with a range of problems, from anxiety, depression, eating disorders and mental health issues to heroin addiction, cancer and heart conditions.
On a one-to-one basis or in group sessions, music therapists give service users the opportunity to express themselves through the medium of music, and improve their mental or physical health by taking part in a range of ‘music experiences’. Sessions might involve singing, songwriting, improvisation, listening to music, chatting about music or sometimes even dancing.
Music therapists initially carry out assessments to evaluate their patients’ needs. They then plan and develop bespoke treatment plans, which are designed to help them maintain and improve their health, overcome adversity and regain their independence.
Salary & benefits
Starting salaries for music therapists who work for the NHS are usually between £26,000 and £35,000.
With experience this can rise to between £30,000 and £40,000, whilst those at the very top of the NHS music therapy ladder (e.g. working as principal arts therapists) might earn between £38,000 and £46,000.
Music therapists working privately might charge between £35 and £60 for a one-hour session, but understandably fees will vary from therapist to therapist.
Music therapists typically work five days a week from nine-to-five, although extra evening and weekend work may be required from time to time to accommodate certain patients.
The majority of music therapists work on a freelance or part-time basis for a number of different clients.
To become a music therapist, you must complete a postgraduate qualification in music therapy at an institution accredited by the Health Professions Council (HPC). Only a handful of universities offer these niche courses, but you can find them here.
Once you have completed one of these qualifications, you must register with the Health Professions Council. Becoming a member of the British Association for Music Therapy is also advisable.
Understandably, you must be a competent musician to work in music therapy. Many music therapists have an undergraduate degree or diploma in music. However, this is by no means essential. If you can demonstrate your musical skills and passion, that will be sufficient.
Another way to boost your employability is to volunteer with an organisation such as Youth Music or Music in Hospitals. This will give you fantastic hands-on experience and will enable you to build up a network of useful contacts.
Training & progression
Continual training is an integral part of an HPC-registered music therapist’s career. The majority of a music therapist’s training is done on-the-job; however, in order to keep your skills fresh, you can also attend courses run by the British Association for Music Therapy or take part in in-service training sessions.
As you progress in your career, you might make the step up into a senior music therapist or team leader position. Some music therapists even move into a senior management position, where they are responsible for supervising a team of music therapists, dramatherapists and art therapists. Freelance work is another viable option.
Alternatively, you could always give something back to the music therapy community by working as a university lecturer and teaching the next generation of music therapists.