Music therapy in the United Kingdom is now in its adulthood with over 600 music therapists working in a variety of settings, including the National Health Service, community environments, schools, prisons, hospices and specialist music therapy centres. There are two major organisations supporting the work of music therapists in the UK, The British Society for Music Therapy (BSMT) which was founded in 1958 by the music therapist Juliette Alvin, and The Association of Professional Music Therapists (APMT) which was formed in 1976 and aims to protect and fulfil the professional needs of training and qualified music therapists in the United Kingdom. These two organisations have always worked closely together and are soon to amalgamate to one new organisation. A move to new office location in central London in 2008 supports this strengthening of the knowledge-base and development of music therapy research, clinical practice and training. In September 2008 the BSMT celebrated fifty years of existence through a concert and therapists from all training backgrounds joined together in a moving evening of music and talks.
Readers may want to refer to for the earlier history of music therapy in the UK, in the previous Voices article in 2002 (Ansdell, Bunt and Hartley). New developments since then in research, community music therapy, music for health and links with other arts therapies and psychological therapies at a governmental level have marked a process of consolidation, creativity and celebration within the profession. Publication of books and articles has been prolific. The success in gaining legal registration for Music therapy in 1997 has allowed the profession to grow with greater influence.
There are different approaches to the use of music in therapy. Depending on the needs of the client and the orientation of the therapist, different aspects of the work may be emphasised. Fundamental to all approaches, however, is the development of a relationship between the client and therapist. Music-making forms the basis for communication in this relationship.
As a general rule both client and therapist take an active part in the sessions by playing, singing and listening. The therapist does not teach the client to sing or play an instrument. Rather, clients are encouraged to use accessible percussion and other instruments and their own voices to explore the world of sound and to create a musical language of their own. By responding musically, the therapist is able to support and encourage this process.
The music played covers a wide range of styles in order to complement the individual needs of each client. Much of the music is improvised, thus enhancing the individual nature of each relationship. Through whatever form the therapy takes, the therapist aims to facilitate positive changes in behaviour and emotional well-being. He or she also aims to help the client to develop an increased sense of self-awareness, and thereby to enhance his or her quality of life. The process may take place in individual or group music therapy sessions.
The benefits gained from music therapy may be as varied as the needs of the clients using the service. For example, music can convey feeling without the use of words. For a person whose difficulties are mainly emotional, music therapy can provide a safe setting where difficult or repressed feelings may be expressed and contained. By offering support and acceptance the therapist can help the client to work towards emotional release and self-acceptance. Music is essentially a social activity involving communication, listening and sharing. These skills may be developed within the musical relationship with the therapist and, in group therapy, with other members. As a result, clients may develop a greater awareness of themselves in relation to others. This can include developing greater confidence in their own ability to make relationships and to find positive ways of making their needs known. It can greatly enhance their self-esteem.
Music can be a great motivator and can be used to promote developmental work, for example with clients with physical and/or learning disabilities. Involvement in creative music-making can assist physical awareness and develop attention, memory and concentration. Obviously, as each person’s needs are different, the various possibilities offered by music therapy will not be so easy to separate. Rather, there will normally be a considerable overlap between the areas described.
The long and rich history of music therapy in our country as described Ansdell, Bunt and Hartley (2002) has been exciting, challenging and full of debate and dialogue, holding in mind the needs of the populations we work with at all times.
Music therapy in the UK arose as a result of highly skilled musicians working through and with music with groups and individuals with a range of needs. Music therapists are required to have excellent musicianship through playing at least one instrument, and usually two, and basic training has been at Masters (postgraduate) level since 2006. The music therapy professional community, from different training backgrounds including Nordoff-Robbins, psychoanalytically informed, psychodynamic, developmental and humanistic, have worked together to agree rigorous basic standards of training and competencies.
The title Music Therapist has been protected by law in the UK since 1997. Since 1997 Music therapy as a profession has benefited from this legal protection which has allowed the discipline to consolidate its identity further both within the profession and externally within health and education. At the time of writing this article the psychotherapy professions in the UK are now in the process of state registration. A colleague from our sister profession of art therapy (Professor Di Waller) has been appointed to oversee this complicated process.
Our alliance and partnerships with other arts therapies professions is strong. For all negotiations with the government, we have tried to maximise the benefits of joining with our art therapy, dramatherapy and more recently, dance movement psychotherapy professional bodies. This has been useful in having a shared common voice to innovate and secure further recognition whilst maintaining necessary difference as these art forms suggest.
In 2004, after several years of extensive negotiations with the UK Department of Health, music therapists established successfully a new pay scale within the National Health Service similar to the professions of clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Through this work several new senior clinical specialist posts and consultant grade music therapy posts have been created for music therapists to apply to. Recruitment to health service posts has become very competitive.
In 2007, Anna Maratos, music therapist, was the first arts therapist to be appointed to an evidence guideline panel within the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. Through her work, the arts therapies have moved much closer to being acknowledged as important assessment and treatment options for schizophrenia. The work of Tony Wigram and colleagues from Europe has been instrumental in the consolidation of the evidence base for ASD and music therapy as an effective intervention in the UK.
Our government has recently offered significant monetary support to the development of new psychological services in primary care across the whole country. Much debate has arisen within the psychological therapies’ professional bodies regarding how new services might be organised. Music therapy is working hard to create further awareness for how we could add to the widening treatment choice for the population as a whole and those with whom music therapists have not historically worked (including the “worried well”) and to identify benefits we might offer patients who are unable to access verbal-based therapies.
In a recent joint mandate, the four arts therapies' professional bodies stated within the psychological professions the importance of music therapy and the arts therapies professions for all groups including new client populations:
The need for the arts is a defining human characteristic. They endure because they have a unique power to help us feel and make sense of experience. However, where there is psychological vulnerability this power cannot be said to be innately helpful.
UK Arts Therapists are:
- Reflective practitioners, trained in assessment, psychological development and treatment delivery
- Employed across a wide range of statutory and non-statutory settings
- The first psychological therapies to be state registered with the Health Professions Council
- Active in social inclusion, by inducting people into the arts as a recognised well-being resource 
There has been a rich learning process with much debate around issues such as:
The following major changes have taken place since 2002:
Music Therapy in the UK is thriving. There are government and charity- funded major clinical projects and research proposals in the pipeline which will determine and consolidate ways forward for practice. These include Music Therapy and Disenchanted Youth (funded by the Music Therapy Charity), Music Therapy and Autism (Health Technologies Assessment-HTA), and other smaller projects with children and families, adults and older people.
In conclusion, we would suggest that changes in clinical practice and provision of services, whether school, hospital and community-based, influence how music therapists are trained. The eight training courses work closely with work placements, and most trainers are engaged in their own clinical and research work. These training courses and any new ones which develop, will shape the profession in future generations. Trainers therefore work closely with each other at a national level, debating strategies and approaches to educating music therapists. In this way, newly qualified music therapists can be employed at the cutting edge of health and social provision, working with people for whom music therapy will make a difference.
 The Arts Therapies - Mandate jointly produced by the Chairs of the UK Arts therapies Professional Bodies
 APMT Clinical Supervision Information and Guidance for the Profession, March 2008
Currently there are eight training courses in the UK, the details of which are outlined below:
Ansdell, Gary, Leslie Bunt & Nigel Hartley (2002). Music Therapy in the United Kingdom. [online]. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved February 20, 2009, from http://www.voices.no/country/monthuk_april2002.html
APMT (2008) Clinical supervision information and guidance for the profession. www.ampt.org March 2008.
Odell-Miller, Helen & Sandford, Stephen (2009). Update on Music Therapy in the United Kingdom. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=country/monthuk_march2009