Life-Changing Music Therapy: A Student’s Story

Frances Thomson, a student on our Master of Music Therapy programme, reflects on how life-changing the past two years have been for her.

It’s been an intense and life-changing two years and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have found a vocation where I get to use music in such a meaningful way and meet so many inspirational people.

As a bassoon player and a singer, music has always been an important part of my life.  Before I knew anything about music therapy, I remember noticing that I felt most alive and fully myself when I was making music. I also knew that there was something special about the way that music can connect people. I found out about Nordoff Robbins by chance through meeting a Nordoff Robbins music therapist at a party, and everything I heard rang true with my own experiences of what music could bring to people’s lives.

When I started the course, I expected to be musically challenged and stretched, and I definitely feel that I’ve grown as a musician. What I was perhaps less prepared for was how much I would learn from the people that I’ve worked with on my placements. Working on a neuro rehab unit of a hospital last year, I didn’t expect to be blown away by the incredible scat-singing of a man whose brain injury meant that he was usually very disorientated and unmotivated. Working at a school for children with autism, I would not have imagined that I would see a teenager – who normally found it extremely difficult to be with his classmates in the same room – astonish everyone when, after a few weeks, he chose to join his classmates in a group music session and freely started playing the drum. At my current placement in a care home, I didn’t expect to feel so invigorated after making music with elderly people with dementia, with whom it might be difficult or impossible to maintain a spoken conversation. It’s been amazing to see people thrive in music, and a privilege to make contact with the healthy, beautiful part of people that responds to it.

Of course, there are challenges and difficulties along the way and in between the magical moments the journey can be very complicated. But I really believe that music therapy offers a way of being with people musically, as they are, and can offer opportunities for people to experience themselves in new ways. 

Over the last two years, I feel that I have experienced myself in new ways too. One of the great things about Nordoff Robbins is that we all come out of the training course as fuller versions of ourselves, with our own unique way of being a music therapist, but with a shared belief in the value of music. It’s scary to think that I’m nearly qualified, but I’m looking forward not only to implementing all that I’ve learnt from the course, but also to the constant challenges and the constant surprises that mean that there will always be more to learn.