Thoughts from a music therapy graduate

Train to be a music therapist

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Fri, 16/9/2016

I was in the sandwich aisle at Tesco Express. I had a ten-minute window before the start of my night shift and was probably choosing carefully between egg & cress or duck hoisin wrap, when my mobile rang. It was Doctor Procter, from Nordoff Robbins. “You’re in,” he said (or something along those lines). An attempt to sound calm and collected as I thanked him graciously for letting me know, and I hung up with a trembling thumb. Beaming wildly at a tired-looking cashier, I paid for my sandwich* and bounced off to work. I was going to be training to become a music therapist – huzzah!

A few months later, I was to find myself wandering uncertainly along the corridor of a nursing home, strapped into an accordion and clutching a couple of maracas. My first placement was quickly opening up whatever I had previously thought about music therapy: I had witnessed a group be led into a stadium-worthy rendition of We Are The Champions, an elderly gentleman encouraged to give ‘tap-dancing’ a go on the snare drum, and a young woman spontaneously compose her own version of a Frank Sinatra standard. Such experiences were starting to confirm what I already knew instinctively about music and what it can offer us as human beings: intimate connection with others; affirmation of one’s identity and of being alive; vital experiences of being in control and being listened to. It was the question of ‘how?’ that would continue to stimulate, challenge and perplex me over the subsequent two years of training (and beyond, I have been assured by many a wiser music therapist).

Learning how to ‘do’ music therapy is no simple undertaking: that much was clear from the beginning. My musical resources, thinking and understanding would all need to expand, as would my willingness to be vulnerable, to take risks, and to reflect critically on pretty much a daily basis! A particular challenge for me was growing the confidence to be musically bolder. A fairly soft-spoken person – people typically have to lean in when I speak – I was naturally quite alarmed at the idea of belting out a song in front of my peers or shouting for the purposes of a therapist/ client role-play during peer-supervision. That my cohort proved an extremely supportive bunch was no small comfort: tearful laughter in the common room, collective anxiety about impending assessments and many well-worn listening ears got me through the hardest days on training and on other days made it downright joyous.

It’s a little strange to be on the other side. It was an intense, inspiring and invigorating two years and I will miss the incredible teaching, (surprisingly regular) cabaret performances and perhaps even the nail-biting drama of midnight essay deadlines. Now that I’m qualified, however, I am fortunate to get to do the stuff I signed up for: music therapy with all sorts of extraordinary people in all sorts of places. I’ve made the big move from London up to Newcastle for a music therapist post with Nordoff Robbins. It’s exciting to be up here, in easy reach of the seaside (I’m bravely typing this up on the chilly sands of Tynemouth) and starting lots of music therapy projects with new partnership organisations. Graduation will be a welcome chance to catch up with my course-mates, though, as well as reflect on the first exhilarating leg of an adventure into music therapy. See you there, rockers.

*probably egg & cress, for interested readers.