What is a music therapist?
Music therapists are highly trained allied health professionals (AHPs), providing treatment that can help to transform people's lives. Music therapists hold a Masters degree in music therapy and have a high level of musicianship and skill. Many, though not all, will have studied music at a university or a conservatoire. Like other arts therapists (such as art and drama therapists), qualified music therapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. This national regulator holds a Register of health and care professionals who meet their Standards of Proficiency and who are bound by their Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics.
Music therapists work in hospitals, schools, pupil referral units, day centres, hospices, care homes, therapy centres, prisons and in private practice across the UK. They often work within a multidisciplinary team alongside other professionals such as speech and language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, doctors, paediatricians, teachers, social workers, consultants, psychologists and psychiatrists.
There are almost 800 music therapists currently registered in the UK. The title 'music therapist' is a protected title by law and only those registered with the HCPC can use it.
Registered music therapists also undertake Continuing Professional Development to ensure that they are aware of new clinical developments and research that can support and enhance their practice.
What do music therapists do?
Music therapists use music to help their clients achieve therapeutic goals through the development of the musical and therapeutic relationship. The role of the music therapist is not to teach clients how to play an instrument, and there is no pre-requisite to 'be musical' in order to engage in music therapy. Music therapists work with the natural musicality styles and genres including free improvisation to offer appropriate, sensitive and meaningful musical interaction with their clients.
Music can be a social process engaged in with others and it can also provide the sanctuary of a more private experience. Depending on the individual needs of the clients, music therapists offer individual or group music therapy sessions. For a child with autism, this could be helping them to find a way to communicate with others. For a learning disabled adult, this could be helping them to find a way in which to express their emotions in a safe and supported environment. For an older person with dementia, this could be helping them to feel valued and heard.
The work of a music therapist takes place not only in sessions but also around the sessions. In thinking about a client and their needs, music therapists will liaise with other professionals working with the client to provide a holistic, joined-up approach to their care. This can include offering assessments, attending meetings, weekly telephone calls with the client's family or carers, providing joint sessions with other professionals such as speech and language therapists, writing reports, and making recommendations for further treatment.