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A Brief History of Music Therapy

Find out about the history of music therapy, where it came from and how it grew. Learn who the founder were and the legacy they have created.

Music Therapy is practised in countries all over the world, and each of these countries bring their own musical heritage and traditions to the profession. This brief overview is of the development of the music therapy profession in the UK, which is where Sarah and Vicky trained and practice as therapists. Information about the international practices of music therapy can be found at the World Federation of Music Therapy website

Music was noticed to have an effect on the mood of veterans in the First World War, and this led to music being introduced in hospitals treating shell shock. Music therapy as a profession in the UK first became organised in 1958 by Juliette Alvin with the development of the Society for Music Therapy and Remedial Music, a few years after a similar organisation was formed in the USA. In 1967 this organisation was re-named the British Society for Music Therapy and aimed to share information about music therapy to anyone with an interest in the subject. In 1976 another organisation formed, the Association of Professional Music Therapists, which was founded to support trainee and qualified music therapists. The APMT worked towards achieving state registration in 1999 with what is now the Health and Care Professions Council. The two organisations worked closely together and merged in 2011 to create the British Association of Music Therapy.

The first UK training in music therapy was launched by Juliette Alvin at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1968, a programme which is still running to this day. In 1974 a music therapy training centre was established by Nordoff-Robbins, who had developed an approach that particularly highlighted music’s potential to support children with special educational needs. Nordoff and Robbins now operates as the largest music therapy charity in the UK. There are now nine training courses offered across the UK where therapists can gain the Masters level training required to practice in the UK and to register with the HCPC. Students are trained to use music to respond therapeutically to the communication of a client/clients, and courses also cover related subjects such as psychotherapeutic theory and child development to different degrees.

Since these first developments in the UK profession, music therapy has developed in many ways and now includes specialist areas such as neurologic music therapy, community music therapy, vocal psychotherapy and guided imagery and music. Music therapy sessions still take place in hospitals, but also in schools, community centres, people’s homes, prisons, rehabilitation centres and workplaces. Therapists provide 1-1 sessions with clients, but also run groups and collaborate with other professions including speech and language therapy and other arts therapies including art and dance. New research in the field is published regularly and conferences are held worldwide to bring therapists together to connect and learn from each other, in order to continue to grow and develop the profession.

The young people that are attending music sessions at the moment, I know are benefiting massively from it.

Lizzy Watkiss, Occupational Therapist

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