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 and well-being.

You'll work with children and adults of all ages and social backgrounds with a range of issues, including:

  • eating disorders
  • anxiety
  • behavioural and emotional difficulties
  • addiction
  • communication disorders.

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 supporting 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
  • write up case notes and reports.

Salary

  • If you're working in the NHS, starting salaries range from £26,565 to £35,577 (band 6 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates).
  • More experienced music therapists may earn between £31,696 and £41,787 (band 7).
  • Salaries for principal music therapists range from £40,428 to £48,514 (band 8a).

Fees for music therapists working in the private sector are usually negotiated between the employer and employee. 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.

Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Full-time music therapists typically work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, although you may need to work some evenings and weekends.

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

Professional training is at postgraduate level at one of the following institutions approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (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 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. Progress may be slow
  • respect for client confidentiality
  • 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.

Most entrants to music therapy have had substantial voluntary or paid experience in areas such as health, education or social care. Contact course providers for details on the type and amount of experience they're looking for.

Voluntary opportunities may also be available with:

Employers

The NHS and the education sector are major employers of music therapists. 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
  • community spaces
  • child development and children's centres
  • day centres
  • hospices and related outreach settings
  • NHS and private hospitals
  • the prison service
  • rehabilitation centres
  • schools and nurseries.

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.

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

Career prospects for music therapists are generally good. As you gain experience, you may choose to specialise in one particular area of expertise, such as mental health 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.