Music therapists draw upon the innate qualities of music to support people of all ages and abilities and at all stages of life.
The British Association for Music Therapy describe music therapy in the following way: ‘Central to how much therapy works is the therapeutic relationship that is established and developed, through engagement in live musical interaction and play between a therapist and client. Music therapists work through music to support their clients to achieve therapeutic goals through the development of the musical and therapeutic relationship. The music therapist does not teach an individual how to play instruments, and there is no prerequisite to ‘be musical’ in order to access music therapy. Music therapists work with a range of musical styles and genres including free improvisation to offer appropriate, sensitive and meaningful musical interaction their clients. Using music in this way enables clients to create their own unique musical language in which to explore and connect with the world and express themselves.’
Many organisations exist to train, advocate for and support the work of music therapists. Each organisation may have a particular area of focus in the music therapy space:
- Music as Therapy International support musicians and music therapists to engage with skill-sharing projects providing training for care workers (find out more here), as well as providing consultation for musicians and music therapists who would like advice on how to involve care workers in musical activities.
- Nordoff Robbins is the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK, working to enrich the lives of people with life-limiting illnesses, disabilities and feelings of isolation. They support people with dementia in care home and hospital settings, as well as at their own centres. Nordoff Robbins undertake vital research into music therapy and its uses, advocate publicly for the use of music therapy, and train future music therapists on their Master of Music Therapy programme. They also run short courses which are open to everyone, and a PhD programme for experienced practitioners in either music therapy, community music, or music and health, seeking further professional development through research.
- British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) is the professional body for music therapy in the UK, providing both practitioners and non-practitioners with information, professional support, and training opportunities. It is also a charity aiming to promote and raise awareness of the uses of music therapy.
Click here to find a music therapist in your local area.
Music therapy is an established psychological intervention which is delivered by music therapists, who are allied health professionals and are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council. Because musical participation and response does not depend on the ability to speak, it can be particularly effective for those who experience difficulty communicating verbally. Depending on the needs of the individual, music therapy can be tailored to offer a social experience with others or it can provide the sanctuary of a more private experience.
For a person living with dementia, music therapy engages healthy parts of the brain to address the secondary effects of the illness, such as loss of confidence and self-worth, low mood and feelings of frustration, irritability and anxiety. It offers a space in which to be heard and for emotions to be expressed in the safety of a therapeutic environment. Music therapists work with people living with dementia to support inevitable losses and look for appropriate ways to use music to meet their psychological needs.
Music therapists work as part of a multidisciplinary team and will liaise with other professional working with a person living with dementia to provide a holistic, joined-up approach to their care. They may offer joint sessions with other health professionals and carers to meet specific aims and goals, such as physiotherapists, nurses, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists and clinical psychologists.