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The working life of a music therapist

Author: Anna Ludwig
08 September 2017

Anna Ludwig is the music therapist at Kilbryde Hospice in East Kilbride, Scotland. She decided to become an art therapist after realising the power music has on lifting people’s moods. Here she tells us what her role at the hospice involves.

I qualified as a music therapist in 2006 in London, and 15 years prior to this I was one of the last students to graduate from the London College of Music (LCM) in its home near Carnaby Street.  It was while at the LCM I first heard about music therapy but it was not until much later in life that I had the understanding, time, money and support to go back to college and study music therapy at postgraduate level.  For me, it was a very exciting and often daunting challenge but it was the best career move I have ever made.

Having practiced music for most of my life, I have personally found it to be such a powerful medium. The feeling of making music as part of a group and the power that can have is incredible. No matter what has happened during my day, music can lift my mood. I remember thinking, if I am getting this much out of it myself, surely I can use it to help other people?

I lead a group music therapy session every Wednesday [at Kilbryde Hospice], along with individual therapy sessions throughout the day. When I arrive at the hospice, I set up my room for the activities planned, and then meet with our clinical team to discuss any new referrals and patient updates. Our day services patients arrive in the morning.

All my sessions, whether individual or group, are patient-led.  This can involve improvisation using a variety of instruments, song-writing, reminiscing, listening to pre-composed music with someone, relaxation, stimulation, singing, crying, laughing, sharing and supporting.  Patients are referred for a variety of reasons in my area of work, including anxiety, low mood, isolation and difficulty expressing themselves verbally.

I also run a community choir which is open to everyone – patients both past and present attend, along with members of the local public. There are on average 26 people attending each week. It is a physical, mental and vocal workout for patients, and a great way to have fun and meet new people.

Sometimes people find it hard letting go during sessions. It can be a big ask, getting someone to come in for the first time and play an instrument. Sadly, I come across far too many people who say things like: “I cannot play music, at school my teacher told me I was not good enough”. It is my job to help people move past these negative experiences, and see how much of a difference music can make to their health and wellbeing. 

What I love about music therapy is how everyone has an equal voice. For example, I have worked with people whose illnesses have progressed to the stage where they are non-verbal. Music can give them an equal voice, and it is so rewarding to see how much of a huge boost that is for their confidence.

The patients I work with are amazing. You are a comparative stranger to them, but they let you in to their lives, and allow you to help them. I think it is an incredible privilege, at this stage in someone’s life, to be able to share that. The staff at Kilbryde Hospice are fantastic too – it is a real privilege to be part of such a passionate team!

I am very proud of our community choir, and what we have achieved together over the years. It is so rewarding to see so many past and present patients, and members of our community coming back time and time again – and having such a good time singing together.

Over the years I have seen the confidence of many patients build more and more after their music therapy sessions. One gentleman comes to mind as an example. When he started visiting day services, Parkinson’s disease had unfortunately led to him being wheelchair-bound. I saw him for 12 weeks, and we practiced walking using a technique called Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation where I teach patients how to improve their gait using the beat of a metronome. It was an incredible moment when he walked into the hospice one day after choir - to a round of applause! He is much more confident, and now every time I see him he is making more effort to walk.

The one thing I am most proud of is that (as far as I am aware) I am the only paid music therapist in an adult hospice in Scotland. Music opens the doors for people who may have difficulty accessing “talking” therapies, so it is great to see an organisation like Kilbryde Hospice investing in music therapy. I am proud to work for a hospice which places emphasis on providing a truly holistic and equitable service for their patients. 

For more information visit  Kilbride Hospice

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