Music therapist

Music therapy is a psychological therapy that uses live musical interaction to help people interact with others and make positive changes to their health and wellbeing.

Music therapists use music in a variety of ways to support clients, helping them to express themselves, relieve stress and build their confidence. They work with people of all ages, from children and young people to adults and the elderly.

As a music therapist, you will use a variety of musical instruments and styles, helping clients through emotional or mental problems, life limiting conditions or physical illness. Music therapists can work with individuals or groups of people, depending on the needs of the client.

Music therapists often work with other healthcare practitioners and support staff on therapeutic programmes as part of a multi disciplinary team.

Some of the typical tasks of a music therapist include:

  • helping clients to develop insights into personal and social issues
  • enabling clients to communicate and interact with others in different ways
  • help clients to become aware of their emotions and feelings
  • providing opportunities for clients to learn new skills or new ways of thinking and behaving
  • writing reports to record sessions and document client progress

To work as a music therapist, useful skills will include:

  • high level of creative and flexible musicianship
  • excellent communication skills
  • teamworking skills
  • confident working with individuals or groups
  • commitment to reflective practice and the wellbeing of clients
  • professionalism and an excellent work ethic
  • managing sensitive or challenging situations

Useful abilities include:

  • working with people with different lifestyles and backgrounds
  • creativity, resourcefulness and imagination

To practice as a music therapist, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). The job title “music therapist” is protected by law. To register, you must successfully complete a postgraduate programme in music therapy approved by the HCPC.

In the UK, the following universities and institutions offer approved postgraduate courses in music therapy:

Postgraduate courses take between two and four years, depending on whether you study on a full time or part-time basis. For entry to an approved course, you’ll need a degree-level qualification, but this need not necessarily be in music.

Applicants should also have experience of working with children or adults with mental health issues or learning disabilities.

The HCPC website has an up-to-date list of accredited courses. Entry requirements vary depending on the university, college or provider. You are advised to contact each individual provider to find out its specific entry requirements.

Short courses

Short introductory courses are available if you are thinking of music therapy as a career. Visit the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) website for more information.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme

Music therapists working in NHSScotland are required to become members of the Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme in respect of regulated work protected adults and children. This scheme is managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Once qualified, you can join the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT).

During your career, you’d be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD). BAMT offers and provides information about courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update your skills.

With experience and further training, you could specialise to work with a particular area, such as neuro-disability or palliative care.

Career progression

Agenda for Change (AfC) is the pay system in the NHS. Most music therapists join NHSScotland on AfC band 6. With further training and experience, you could become a senior or consultant music therapist at band 7, managing the work of a team of music therapists. You might also train or supervise other music therapists. Music therapists may also have the opportunity to take up lead roles in multidisciplinary teams.

Find out more information from these professional and regulatory bodies:

Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological, and in England; social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education. Visit the HCPC website to find out more.

British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT)

BAMT is the professional body for music therapists in the UK. It provides practitioners and non-practitioners with information, professional support, and training opportunities. To find out more, please visit the BAMT website.