An insight into the work of music therapist Oliver King

I trained to be a music therapist in 2010-12 at Anglia Ruskin University having been a performer and teacher of various kinds for a fair few years beforehand. I love performing - especially improvising - and am fortunate to have always had jobs which involve a good dose of both of these skills. Looking back, I think that I have probably always wanted to be a music therapist - I recently found a stash of old leaflets dating back to the mid-90s stuffed into the bottom of a tired-looking filing cabinet.

The primary reason for wanting to become a music therapist is that I have always wanted to use music in order to help people. Put more finely, I have seen first-hand how music can bring groups of people together through, for example, singing in a choir or by playing in a samba band. I have also seen the emotive power of music when a memory or feeling is evoked through a particular piece of music. Music for me acts as a mode of communication and can bring comfort and joy to some, but above all it acts as a crucial form of expression for feelings and emotions.

My training was immensely rewarding yet challenging, and I developed an understanding and fascination with the psychological underpinning of music therapy. I found that my musical skills, too, were tested, and my ability to listen hard and react ‘in the moment’ started to become much more honed. On reflection I feel that my musical skills have matured markedly as a result of the training. Practical experience is an essential part of most programmes, and over the two-year training period I undertook placements in adult psychiatry and with children/adults with learning disabilities. Upon graduating I worked as a music therapist for a music service whilst also returning to teach class music on a part-time basis. This was because it takes time to build up a music therapy practice and because I didn’t intend to work full time as a music therapist - I really enjoy the variety of a ‘portfolio’ career. 

Since September 2014 I have been working 2.5 days a week in a children’s hospice. My job is massively varied and I work with children who have life-limiting conditions and their families. Many of the children are non-verbal and rely on music as a mode of communication and expression. I draw on many skills on a daily basis and find that it is important to leave time and space for taking care of myself – it is a mentally and physically demanding job. 

Music therapy for me is a vocation; I have done many things along the way (still do!), but the essential seed was sown a long time ago - it just took 15 years to act on it. I stand in awe of the people and families that I work with, and constantly learn much from them. This is wonderful, yet precious work.

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