Music therapist: job description

Music therapist: job description

Music therapists use music within a therapeutic environment to help individuals of all ages who are experiencing physical, psychological, emotional or mental problems.
Music therapists work with adult 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 aims to help clients understand and address inner conflicts. Therapists perform controlled sessions with individuals, groups or families where music and communication are used to explore behaviour, attitudes and emotions (some of which may be unconscious or repressed).

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, ethnic instruments and improvisation
  • maintaining records and case notes
  • reporting progress to families, carers, relevant agencies or professional staff

Therapists work with adults and children who are suffering symptoms including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Physical, psychiatric or neurological disorders
  • Learning difficulties
  • Dementia
  • Autism
  • Behavioural or emotional problems

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

Many music therapists work as private practitioners.

Music therapy is a small profession and there is strong competition for jobs. Most opportunities that come up are part time or temporary contracts. Vacancies are advertised in national newspapers, vacancy lists produced by local authorities and professional associations such as the British Association for Music Therapy. They are also advertised by publications such as the Times Educational Supplement, Community Care and Health and Social Services Journal.

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 diploma in music therapy (one year full-time or two to three years part-time). Most course providers accept candidates with high levels of musical performance. You must also register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The Association of Professional Music Therapists lists recognised courses on their website. Relevant experience prior to postgraduate study is normally essential. Music therapy may not be a first career choice, and many people enter the profession later in life.

Key skills for musical therapists

  • Maturity
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • 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