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Music therapists use music within a therapeutic environment to help individuals of all ages who are experiencing emotional or mental health problems, or who have learning or physical disabilities or physical illnesses.

Music therapists work with adults and children who are affected by depression, anxiety, learning difficulties and behavioural problems.

What does a music therapist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Music therapy is a form of psychological therapy that uses music to develop the relationship between clients and the therapist, and to support clients' wellbeing and ability to interact. It can be particularly useful for clients who have difficulties with communication or who find it overwhelming to try to express their emotions verbally. Music therapy is not aimed at improving clients’ musical ability.

Clients may include people with mental health problems, learning difficulties, developmental disorders, neurological conditions and physical illnesses. Music therapists may work on a one-to-one basis or lead sessions with groups. Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • assessing clients' needs
  • planning and providing appropriate music sessions
  • actively participating in music sessions and encouraging clients to do the same
  • exploring a variety of musical styles and sounds with clients through singing, percussion, using different instruments and improvisation
  • maintaining records and case notes
  • reporting progress to families, carers, relevant agencies or professional staff

Typical employers of music therapists

  • NHS trusts
  • Local education authorities
  • Local authority social services departments
  • Hospitals
  • Day or health centres
  • Residential homes
  • Nurseries
  • Special schools
  • Prisons

Some music therapists work as private practitioners.

Vacancies are advertised on websites such as Community Care, NHS jobs and NHS Scotland recruitment.

Qualifications and training required

You do not necessarily need an undergraduate music degree to become a music therapist. However it is necessary to complete a postgraduate education and training course in music therapy that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You cannot practise as a music therapist unless you are registered with the HCPC. Postgraduate music therapy courses typically take two years full time or three to four years part time.

While you do not need to be a music graduate, musical proficiency is required and an audition is a standard part of the application process for music therapy postgraduate courses. You may be expected to have an undergraduate degree or professional qualification in a field such as social work or teaching if you do not have a music degree.

Relevant experience prior to postgraduate study is normally essential. This may not be related to music, but is likely to involve professional experience of a role involving caring for vulnerable people. Music therapy may not be a first career choice, and many people enter the profession later in life.

Key skills for musical therapists

  • Maturity
  • Empathy and sensitivity
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Musical ability
  • Intuition and creativity
  • The ability to work with people from a variety of backgrounds
  • The ability to deal effectively with challenging situations

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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