Music therapist

Music therapists work with people of all ages. Using music, they help people to interact with others, express their feelings, relieve stress and build confidence. Music therapy creates opportunities for people to make positive changes to their physical and emotional health and wellbeing.

To work in the NHS, music therapists must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Starting your career

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as a music therapist, useful subjects include:

  • Music
  • Psychology
  • Care
  • Human Biology
  • Maths
  • English

A Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare, taken in S5 or S6, could help you gain new skills and valuable work experience.

Find out more about Foundation Apprenticeships at apprenticeships.scot.

Work placement

If you’re at school or thinking of changing career, doing a work placement could help you when applying to college, university or for a job in healthcare. You’ll learn new skills, improve your knowledge and discover what it’s like to work in the health service. Find out how to apply for work experience with the NHS.

University study

In Scotland, you can do a postgraduate programme in Music Therapy at Queen Margaret University (QMU) in Edinburgh. This pre-registration programme takes 2 years full time. To get on to the course, you are likely to need:

  • an honours degree in music or a related subject
  • a high standard of music ability
  • one-year work experience or voluntary work with people in the community, or in healthcare, social work or education

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work. You should check specific entry requirements before applying.

The role

As a music therapist, you will use a variety of musical instruments and styles, helping clients through emotional or mental health problems. Some clients may also have life-limiting conditions or physical illness. You’ll work with individuals or groups of people, depending on the needs of the client.

What you’ll do

Some of the typical tasks of a music therapist include:

  • helping people to develop insights into personal and social issues
  • enabling people to communicate and interact with others in different ways
  • providing opportunities for people to learn new skills or new ways of thinking and behaving
  • writing reports to record therapeutic activities and document client progress

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • creativity and musical ability
  • communicating with people
  • caring for people
  • working in a team
  • building relationships with people
  • persuading and motivating people

Who you’ll work with

Music therapists work with other healthcare, social services and education professionals, including:

  • psychologists
  • nurses
  • healthcare support workers
  • social workers
  • teachers
  • art therapists
  • dramatherapists

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • schools
  • the community
  • health centres

Useful information

To work as a music therapist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

Music therapy has been a regulated healthcare profession since 1999. There are more than 4,400 registered arts therapists in the UK including art, drama and music therapists.

Learning and development

The professional body for music therapists in the UK is the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT). You can become a member once you’ve qualified as a music therapist.

During your career, you’d be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date through Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The BAMT offers and provides information about courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update your skills.

Career progression

You could choose to specialise in working with specific client groups, such as children and young people, older people or offenders. You may decide to become a specialist in a particular area, such as neuro-disability or palliative care.

As an experienced practitioner, you could become a senior or consultant music therapist, managing the work of a team of therapists. You could also become the head of an arts therapy department, coordinating the work of therapists from other disciplines such as dramatherapy or music therapy. Other opportunities include training other music therapists.