To work as a music therapist, you'll need a high level of musicianship as well as professional training at postgraduate level

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.

Types of work

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

Working in groups or on a one-to-one basis, you will:

  • agree therapy objectives with your clients;
  • plan, review and assess therapy sessions to monitor their effectiveness and to help plan following sessions;
  • take an active role in sessions by playing, singing and listening;
  • encourage your clients to take part in the session and support them by responding musically;
  • encourage your clients to use a range of accessible musical instruments, such as percussion and their own voice to express themselves;
  • help your clients explore the world of sound and 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;
  • 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 £26,041 to £34,876 (band 6).
  • More experienced music therapists may earn between £31,072 and £40,964 (band 7).
  • Salaries for principal music therapists range from £39,632 to £47,559 (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, such as room rental, heating and lighting, indemnity insurance, maintenance of instrument stock, travel, supervision and meetings

Income data for NHS salaries from pay bands agreed under the Agenda for change. 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 the place where 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 are 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 and full membership of the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT). Visit the HCPC website for a current list of approved courses.

Courses usually 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 will need a high level of musicianship, as well as academic and personal skills, to get a place on a training course. Although some applicants have a music degree or equivalent, you may also be considered if your degree is in another subject, such as medicine, nursing, psychology or education, 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. Contact individual institutions for exact entry requirements.

You will usually have to pay course fees yourself. The BAMT has a small amount of money available to help eligible trainees with the cost of books and materials or personal therapy. To find possible sources of funding, use publications such as the British Music Education Yearbook. Also, contact the training institution you're interested in to see if they have any scholarships or bursaries available.

If you're already employed by the NHS or a similar organisation interested in music therapy, funding is occasionally available through your employer.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • excellent communication skills to liaise with other medical and educational professionals, parents, relatives and care workers;
  • personal maturity and emotional stability to deal with sad and stressful situations;
  • the ability to empathise with children and adults 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;
  • self-motivation, particularly if working for yourself.

Work experience

You will need work experience in a relevant field for entry onto one of the postgraduate training courses. Most entrants to music therapy have had substantial voluntary or paid experience in areas such as health, education or social care.

Voluntary opportunities may also be available with:

Employers

The NHS and the education sector as a whole are major employers of music therapists. You may also be employed in the voluntary sector or social services, or by charities and on community projects.

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

  • care homes;
  • the community;
  • day centres;
  • hospices and related outreach settings;
  • hospitals;
  • the prison service
  • 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.

A number of therapists work in private practice, or on a freelance basis, where demand for music therapy is constant.

Look for job vacancies at:

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

As a practising music therapist you are 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. 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 working in the NHS are good. As a newly qualified music therapist you are 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 or as an arts therapies manager. Opportunities for career progression include day centre manager or managing other therapy specialisms. This usually involves taking on additional supervisory and management responsibilities.

NHS grades may be translated to working in private practices, but if you work for yourself you will usually need to build up your own client base. You will rely upon sessional payment from consultations, rather than a regular income, and must factor in the costs involved in running a session.

As many music therapists work for more than one employer, you will have scope for getting experience with clients of all ages and with wide-ranging needs. Although many therapists enjoy this variety, you may choose to specialise with a particular client group. There are also opportunities for research and lecturing on one of the approved training courses.