Becoming a music therapist

The perspective of the non-classically trained musician

Music Therapy is a protected title, it is taken seriously in the NHS (band 7) and requires a formal qualification to MSc level to be able to practice. Fundamentally people who train to become music therapist are predominantly from a formal level of training in terms of musical ability. Studying music at degree level seems to provide technical substance to the further training at MSc level where the psychodynamic elements are explored in addition to further musically based perspectives.

As someone who had no formal musical training prior to becoming a music therapist, but someone who had a huge background in what might be described as community music driven experiences, (being in bands, session musician, gigs etc) it has been both fascinating and profound to understand with the self-perceived ‘levels’ of which a music therapist operates. A music therapist should always be considerate of their approach not just in a general sense but on a daily basis when it comes to serving clients. People are individuals, and by that I mean that people are incredibly unique.

You may find some similarity in terms of age group of musical preferences but by and large you should be cautious to make assumptions on how clients are going to be or do based purely on their demographics or pathology. While music is a particularly important aspect of any music therapist, this is superseded by people and personality, which is more about who someone really is. The flexibility of the way someone works, ability to listen or lead, or simply being present are qualities that are far more important than a music therapist’s technical ability.

Because of this fundamental perspective, focusing on “getting music right”, (which is questionable even as a statement as there is no right or wrong) seems redundant and therefore if anything musicians that are not formally trained but have a high proficiency and flexibility of playing musical instruments are favourable in the music therapy profession.

It is true that MSc requirements state that candidates are required to be of grade 8 standard, and while I myself have never taken any graded exams, the emphasis on being a GREAT music therapist has to be their ability to meet people in their circumstances. This part of the job is far more critical than “getting the music right”,  and only reinforces the imperfections that make up human beings as we are, however we are.  It is certain that music therapists have their own preferences as individuals, when it comes to music participation on a personal choice level, but in the end, as with any therapy that uses some form of communication as a feature and benefit, music therapy will always be about evaluating and understanding the person first, the music second.


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