You'll use your high level of musicianship, as well as professional training at postgraduate level, to connect with and support your clients as a music therapist

Music therapists use music creatively to help their clients address social, emotional or physical difficulties.

You won't teach your clients to sing or play an instrument, but will communicate through music making and a shared musical experience to support them and facilitate positive changes in their behaviour, communication and wellbeing.

You'll work with children and adults of all ages and social backgrounds, either individually or in groups, in a range of clinical settings. Your clients may be affected by a range of injuries, illnesses, disabilities, challenges or difficulties including:

  • acquired brain injury or stroke
  • addiction
  • autism
  • communication delay
  • dementia
  • learning disabilities
  • mental ill health
  • school exclusion
  • serious illness, such as cancer
  • social, behavioural and emotional difficulties.

You'll also work with those who want to gain an insight into themselves and how they relate to others.

Responsibilities

As a music therapist, you'll need to:

  • agree therapy objectives with your clients
  • take an active role in sessions by playing, singing and listening
  • encourage your clients to use a range of accessible musical instruments, such as percussion and their own voice, to express themselves
  • encourage your clients' participation and support them musically
  • help your clients explore sound to create a musical language of their own
  • improvise with music as a reaction to what your clients are communicating to enhance the individual nature of your relationship
  • plan, review and assess therapy sessions to monitor their effectiveness and to help plan following sessions
  • record therapy sessions, with your clients' consent
  • support your clients' creative development
  • help your clients develop an increased self-awareness
  • assess your clients' musical and non-musical behaviours
  • attend meetings with other professionals involved in the care of your clients, such as doctors, paediatricians, speech and language therapists, teachers and social workers, in order to take a holistic approach to their care
  • write up case notes and reports and make recommendations for further treatment.

Salary

  • If you're working in the NHS, starting salaries range from £30,401 to £37,267 (band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates).
  • More experienced music therapists may earn between £37,570 and £43,772 (band 7).
  • Salaries for principal music therapists range from £44,606 to £50,819 (band 8a).

Fees for music therapists working in the private sector are usually negotiated between the employer and employee. The British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) recommends a sessional pay rate of £40 to £60 per hour.

When negotiating fees, use the NHS pay structures as a guide and make sure you factor in all the costs involved in running a session - this includes room rental, heating and lighting, indemnity insurance, maintenance of instrument stock, travel, supervision and meetings.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Full-time music therapists typically work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, although working hours vary, for example if you're working in a school. You may also need to work evenings if you're self-employed to meet your clients' needs.

Many music therapists work part time, combining music therapy with other job roles, such as teaching or performance. Self-employment is common.

What to expect

  • You'll usually work in a music room equipped with a range of instruments and will meet your clients in the same place at the same time each week. You'll often work between a base and wherever your clients are located, such as a day centre or special school.
  • You may work on a one-to-one basis with a client or in a group setting with many clients. In all cases, you'll work as part of a wider multidisciplinary team. In large units, you may be part of an arts therapies team, while in small units you could be the only therapist.
  • If you work in a clinical setting you may spend a lot of time liaising with medical colleagues and other professionals engaged in the care of their clients. In other settings, for example when clients have referred themselves or their children, you may take a less formal approach to reporting back your client's progress.
  • Jobs are available in towns and cities throughout the UK.
  • If you work for several different organisations, you're likely to spend time travelling to and from different work places during the week.

Qualifications

You must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to work as a music therapist. This involves completing professional training at postgraduate level at one of the following institutions approved by the HCPC:

Graduates from these programmes are eligible for HCPC registration. Visit the HCPC website for a current list of approved courses. Once qualified, you can also join the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) as a practitioner member.

Courses last two years (full time) or three to four years part time. Clinical placements form part of your training and cover a range of work settings and client groups.

You'll need a high level of practical musicianship, as well as academic and personal skills, to get a place on a training course. Although many applicants have a music degree or equivalent, you may also be considered if your degree is in another subject, as long as you can show proficiency in musical performance. An equivalent professional qualification or extensive experience in a related field may also be acceptable.

If you don't have a degree you'll need to prove you have the necessary academic skills to work at Masters level.

The application process typically includes a written application, an interview and an audition. Contact individual institutions for entry requirements as they may vary between institutions.

You will also need to undergo an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Some course providers provide introductory courses for those interested in a career in music therapy.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • a high level of musicianship
  • skills in improvisation and the ability to use music symbolically and expressively
  • listening and observational skills to help understand your clients' needs and issues
  • creativity and imagination
  • communication skills to liaise with other medical and educational professionals, parents, relatives and care workers
  • personal maturity and emotional stability to deal with challenging situations
  • the ability to empathise with clients of all ages and with wide-ranging needs
  • flexibility and adaptability - sessions can't be rigidly pre-planned as you need to respond to the needs of your client
  • patience - music therapy is not exclusively results-based and progress may be slow
  • respect for client confidentiality
  • a high level of self-reflection and self-awareness
  • self-motivation, particularly if you're self-employed.

If working in private practice, you'll also need business and administration skills.

Work experience

You'll need work experience in a relevant field to get a place on a postgraduate training course. This doesn't have to be music-based but you will need to get professional experience in a caring role, working with vulnerable people in the community.

Most entrants to music therapy have had substantial voluntary or paid experience with adults and children who have additional needs in areas such as health, education or social care. This experience will help you to understand the work you'll be doing as a music therapist, which can be physically and emotionally challenging.

Experience in the following areas can be particularly beneficial:

  • dementia care
  • developmental difficulties
  • homelessness
  • hospice care
  • learning disabilities
  • mental health.

Contact course providers for details on the type and amount of experience they're looking for.

Voluntary music-specific opportunities may also be available with:

Employers

There are almost 800 registered music therapists in the UK who are members of the BAMT. Major employers include the NHS and the education sector. You may also be employed by charities, social services and on community projects.

You can work in a variety of settings, such as:

  • care homes
  • child development and children's centres
  • clients' homes
  • community spaces
  • day centres
  • hospices and related outreach settings
  • NHS and private hospitals
  • the prison service
  • rehabilitation centres
  • schools and nurseries
  • specialist music therapy centres.

Opportunities also exist in clinical work and research, supported by charitable organisations and trusts, or in universities, lecturing on one of the recognised training courses.

You can work in private practice, or on a freelance basis, where there's a constant demand for music therapy.

Look for job vacancies at:

BAMT also offers a monthly jobs board to its members.

Jobs are also advertised in the press and on social media, for example LinkedIn.

Professional development

As a practising music therapist you're legally required to register with the HCPC and renew your registration every two years. To stay registered, you must keep a record of your continuing professional development (CPD) activities, which can include a mixture of:

  • work-based learning - supervision, in-service training, peer review and discussion with colleagues
  • professional activity - involvement in a professional body such as the BAMT, lecturing and teaching, presentation at conferences
  • formal training and education - top-up courses, submission of papers to a journal, undertaking research
  • self-directed learning - reading professional journals and news articles.

The BAMT offers support and training for practising music therapists, including courses, conferences and seminars. This gives you the chance to develop new knowledge and skills and to network with others in your field.

Training institutions recognised by the HCPC may run CPD courses. You could also do a PhD in music therapy to develop your knowledge in a particular area.

Career prospects

As you gain experience, you may choose to specialise in one particular area, such as mental health, dementia, palliative care or child development, or work in two or three areas of interest. There are options to work for an employer, set up in private practice or a combination of both.

As a newly qualified music therapist, you're encouraged to run your own therapy sessions with support from a line manager. With experience, you can apply for more senior posts within the music therapy team, such as consultant music therapist. In this role, you'll manage a team of music therapists. Other opportunities for career progression include day centre manager or managing other therapy specialisms. This usually involves taking on additional supervisory and management responsibilities.

If you work for yourself, you'll need to build up your own client base. You'll rely upon sessional payment from consultations, rather than a regular income, and must factor in the costs involved in running a session. Some music therapists choose to undertake private practice work in addition to working for an employer.

There are also opportunities for research and lecturing on one of the approved training courses and to train to supervise other practitioners.

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