The MA in Music Therapy offered at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick (UL) a is a two-year full-time programme of study which prepares graduates for professional practice as a music therapist. UL is the only university on the island of Ireland to offer postgraduate training in music therapy. Over the last number of years, the applications to this postgraduate programme have largely increased, suggesting that the profession is becoming increasingly recognised in Ireland. The course has a healthy annual intake of approximately 10 to 20 students. There has also been an increasing number (eight) of music therapy PhDs completed in recent years, and there are currently six students undertaking and enrolled in music therapy PhD programmes covering diverse topics such as online music therapy services for people living with dementia, singing and social prescription, music therapy and chronic pain, music therapy and perinatal mental health and music interventions for people with dementia and their family caregivers.
The Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists (IACAT) define music therapy as
“an evidence-based profession where the planned and creative use of music-based interventions by an IACAT-accredited music therapist supports people to improve, restore or maintain health, functioning and well-being” (IACAT 2021).
Unlike our colleagues in the United Kingdom, who are regulated by the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC), music therapists in Ireland await statutory recognition. Irish music therapists are currently not state registered or officially recognised within the health system. This creates barriers regarding sustainable employment, and a lack of awareness surrounding the profession (Ahessy 2020).
In a recent report exploring the practice, professional engagement and employment of Creative Arts Therapists in Ireland, Ahessy (2020) highlighted that there are growing numbers of trainees, increased association membership and many new contracted posts across diverse clinical areas (Ahessy 2020).
Given the recent and exciting changes in the field, the authors wished to report on the employment opportunities of graduates from the MA Music Therapy at UL and address the following areas:
An electronic survey was distributed to the graduates of the MA Music Therapy from the last five years (2016 – 2020). Participants were recruited directly by email from the database of graduates contact information. For GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) purposes, those who had requested not to be contacted by UL were excluded from the distribution list. The survey was published on the 13th of May and closed on the 7th of June 2021. A reminder email was distributed one week before the closing date.
The electronic survey employed a mixed-methods design, including two quantitative questions, 12 closed-ended qualitative questions and four open-ended questions. Topics covered included demographic information (year of graduation, geographical location), music therapy employment, rate of pay, and perceptions of business aspects of their music therapy training. The survey was piloted before distribution.
Confidentially was assured to all respondents; all responses were anonymised, with numeric codes automatically assigned. The authors were the sole data collectors with exclusive access to the data. Data processing was conducted with integrity and confidentiality. Stored data was kept on an encrypted online server with a two-factor authentication. The online data will be stored for a period of one year and then deleted. In compliance with GDPR the researcher can facilitate access to one’s data and can also export or delete it upon request (GDPR 2018).
The received data was stored on the Qualtrics website under password protection, for confidentiality and security. The data retrieved from the measurement scales was then exported to Excel, which was also password protected.
Two forms of data analysis were employed. The qualitative open-ended data was analysed using thematic analysis, following the Braun and Clarke method (Braun and Clarke 2006). This consisted of the following steps: (1) become familiar with the data, (2) generate initial codes, (3) search for themes, (4) revision of themes, (5) define and name themes, and (6) produce the report.
The qualitative closed-ended data was downloaded from Qualtrics in Excel format and imported into the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) software for statistical analysis. Frequency tables and charts were created to display the statistical results. Once both forms of data were analysed, the results were considered in relation to the aims of the research.
The findings are presented in two sections, beginning first with the closed-ended questions, and then moving on to the open-ended thematic findings. Of the 56 graduates who completed the MA Music Therapy at UL between 2016 and 2020, a total of 44 graduates completed the survey (78.5% response rate). Of those, 15 graduated in 2020 (34.09%), five graduated in 2019 (11.36%), six graduated in 2018 (13.64%), 10 graduated in 2017 (22.73%) and eight graduated in 2016 (18.18%). These are presented in Figure 1 in relation to the annual intake of each academic year. The mean class size of the MA Music Therapy is 11.
Figure 1. Number of students enrolled in MA Music Therapy in relation to response rate.
Of the 40 respondents, 14 respondents are living in Munster (31.82%), 13 in Leinster (29.55%), three in Ulster (6.82%), four in Connaught (9.09%), four in the UK (9.09%) and six living internationally (13.64%). International responses included those from Cyprus (n=1), Greece (n=1), Netherlands (n=1) and Singapore (n=1).
In the final placement (Semester 4) of the MA programme, students undertake a placement with weekly clinical supervision provided by the university. Whilst the university aims to place all students in a facility where music therapy already exists, this final placement is often a new site where more advanced students pilot music therapy in a new setting. Participants were asked whether they continued working in their independent placement facility after graduation. Fifteen respondents (34.09%) said yes, while 29 (65.91%) responded no.
The graduates were asked whether music therapy is their primary employment/professional identity. Thirty-three respondents said yes (75%), while 11 respondents said no (25%). Respondents were then asked, if music therapy was not their primary employment, to state their current professional status. Responses included: “Retired and currently pursuing a range of interests”, “I work as both a music therapist and psychotherapist”, “I identify as a MT, but due to the pandemic I must work in construction to pay the bills”, “research”, “music teaching”, “songwriter/musician”, “primary teacher”, “educator”, “performer”, “further academic studies”, “educator” and “delivering pizza”.
Participants were asked whether they were currently working as a music therapist. Thirty-nine respondents (88.64%) said that they were working as a music therapist and five respondents (11.36%) said that they were not. Of the respondents who are working as a music therapist, 16 (40%) are in full-time employment, while 60% (n=24) are in part-time employment.
Of those that indicated that they were not currently working as a music therapist, reasons included: “Pandemic”, “Lack of available professional opportunities where status is recognised”, “Self-care, starting again soon”, “Self-care and using this break for planning to start my private practice", and “I'm currently working as a primary teacher and due to the circumstances, it was difficult to work as a music therapist here in Greece”.
Participants were asked whether they are self-employed, working for an organisation, or both. Twenty-two respondents (51.16%) are self-employed, seven (16.28%) are working for an organisation, and 14 (32.56%) graduates are self-employed and working for an organisation (See Figure 2).
Figure 2. Employment status of graduates of the MA Music Therapy.
Graduates were then asked how long after graduation it took for them to find employment as a music therapist. Twenty-four respondents indicated that they found work in 0-3 months (61.54%), eight respondents said it took between 3-6 months (20.51%), five respondents said it took 6-12 months (12.82%), and two said it took over a year to find work (5.13%).
Graduates were then asked how they attained work. Fifteen respondents (38.46%) said that they contacted organisations/facilities independently, six respondents said that they attained work through word of mouth (15.38%), four were approached by organisations seeking music therapy services (10.26%) and 14 respondents selected ‘other’ (39.5%). Some of the ‘other’ ways of attaining work included social media (n=3), advertisements on IACAT website (n=2) and referrals from other therapists (n=2).
Graduates were asked to select what type of facility/facilities they are currently working in. Sixteen respondents are working in schools (21.92%), 12 in hospitals (16.44%), 12 in day care services (16.44%) and 10 in nursing homes (13.7%). Twenty-three respondents selected ‘other’ (31.51%)(See Figure 3). This included: private practice (n=8), home visits (n=3), charitable organisation (n=2), private therapy centre (n=1), a psychiatric prison (n=1), community centres (n=1), through Music Generation (n=1), July provision (n=1) and a multidisciplinary centre (n=1).
Figure 3. Facility/sector that graduates of the MA Music Therapy are employed in.
Graduates were asked to select the client demographic(s) that they are currently working with. Listed in order of frequency, this includes:
‘Other’ client demographics listed included: children from an area of social disadvantage (n=1), women/children affected by sexual/domestic violence (n=1), children’s mental health/emotional and behavioural needs (n=1) and chronic illness (n=2).
Graduates were asked how much they charge for a session if they are self-employed. In the context of an individual music therapy session, the mean price was €53.94 (n=32), ranging from €35-€75. For a one-hour group session, the mean price was €74.31 (n=29), with prices ranging from €60-€100. The mean price for a half-day rate is €161 (n=25), with prices ranging from €100-€250, while the mean price for a full-day rate is €245.56 (n=27), with prices ranging from €100-€300.
Graduates were asked if they thought there needed to be a stronger emphasis in the final semester on the business aspects of working as a music therapist. Twenty-four respondents said, ‘definitely yes’ (66.67%), nine said ‘probably yes’ (25%), two said ‘probably not’ (5.56%), and one said, ‘definitely not’ (2.78%). No respondents selected ‘might or might not’.
The respondents were then asked, "In terms of setting up work as a music therapist, what material or information do you think should be covered with students before they graduate from the MA Music Therapy?". Thematic analysis of the data revealed three themes: (1) The practicalities of self-employment; (2) Advertising and marketing; (3) Insurance; and (4) Developing proposals and presentations. Further subthemes arose from these main themes and are presented in the figure below.
The practicalities of self-employment/ setting up your own business was the most prominent theme emerging from the data (n=12). Several subthemes emerged, including: dealing with taxes (n=8); negotiating fees (n=4); registering as a sole trader; setting up a private practice; templates on invoicing clients; and financial planning. In response to the question, one respondent answered:
“A business module covering how to set up/run a business and most importantly how to get clients in the door. Information as to what protocols need to be followed re: registering and setting up a business, how to manage tax, income/expenditure, and other business grants/aids are available”.
Another respondent answered:
“Setting up a business – what it entails, registration of business, accountants, how to contact organisations/make the connections and how to develop your online presence”.
Several respondents emphasised the importance of learning to negotiate fees.
“It would be extremely helpful to cover topics such as rates, negotiating pay, etc. as there is so much disparity between therapists as to how much to charge for sessions and other types of work, as shown in the recent IACAT salary survey”.
The second largest theme was advertising and marketing. Several subthemes emerged including website design, marketing materials, social media and how to build a brand/logo. One respondent answered:
“Assignments based around setting up social media, website, on advertising and promoting music therapy services . . . Creating marketing materials . . . How to build a brand/logo, etc."
Other responses included “social media advertising”, “how to develop your online presence” and “drawing up a service level agreement, risk assessment and branding should be essential”.
One respondent highlighted that the assignments given were helpful but could be further developed to help with practice of self-advertising.
“The process of soliciting and advertising for work. The assignment where we were made a one-page pamphlet was great. What would enhance that is having some insight into language for phone calls/cover emails when sending out the pamphlet, as well as ideas around self-advertising”.
The third theme which arose from the data was the subject of insurance and legal matters. The issue of finding suitable indemnity insurance was raised as well as professional indemnity requirements. One student answered:
“Where to access professional indemnity insurance and types of cover needed to work self-employed”.
The final theme arising from the data was proposals and presentations. Some of the responses included: “writing business proposals”, “presentation skills,” “making a pitch for work,” and “what to include in a presentation”. One respondent answered:
“How to go about developing pilot project scheme with relevant stakeholders . . . I am currently communicating with a number of politicians trying to organise a Dept. of Ed. Or HSE (Health Service Executive) funded music therapy pilot programme for special schools and ASD units in my own municipal district, but I am at a bit of a loss with how to go about it? i.e., what sort of plans to draw up and submit/who to submit to, what sort of data should be gathered to make the proposal and what sort of data the proposal should aim to gather over its duration”.
The last question on the survey was open-ended, asking respondents if they would like to make any other comments. Three themes emerged from the data. They included: (1) advocacy, (2) support, and (3) additional training.
The advocation of music therapy as a profession was a prominent theme arising from the data. One respondent mentioned that students should be required to give a detailed presentation at their placement site to explain the profession:
“I think students should be required to give a detailed presentation at each of their placement facilities. There is still quite a lot of confusion out there as to what MT [music therapy] actually is. This would also help raise awareness and advocacy for the profession”.
Another respondent highlighted the need for a national spokesperson for the profession who engages with the public to raise awareness:
“It would also be great if we had some kind of ‘industry spokesperson’ who regularly engages successfully with social media, traditional media, etc. to increase our presence in the public imagination. I have met a few people recently who had never heard of music therapy . . . When I explain it, they always understand it but if we can perhaps find someone in the public eye to be an advocate of sorts”.
Support was also a prominent theme which arose from the data. One respondent emphasised the importance of working as part of a multidisciplinary team:
“I have worked equal amounts of time as a self-employed and employed music therapist and there is no comparison in terms of support when surrounded by a multidisciplinary team (if fortunate enough to work in such a specific area) but independent work is difficult and lots to prepare to become established”.
Support from peers was also highlighted as important:
“Ensuring the class cohort stay in touch – perhaps arranging peer supervision as well as having a supportive supervisor. It’s tricky to “compete” with more established professionals and promote the work of creative arts”.
Support from other allies in the profession was also mentioned:
“It’s not easy but you really need to make an impression in your final semester and try to find good allies within the service you are working”.
The final theme arising from the data was that of additional training. Further subthemes which arose included more specific interventions (n=1), supporting caregivers of children/adolescents during the therapy process (n=1), lack of confidence (n=1) and aiding the transition from student to professional (n=1).
One respondent further highlighted the importance of business training within the course:
“I think this in an area that needs a lot more focus within the course. The majority of music therapists who I have met since training who work full-time do so as self-employed and under a private practice. I know many therapists get a confidence knock after graduating if a job doesn’t come up for them and they do not feel confident enough to sell their services. In my experience, there are loads of opportunities for work and for new music therapy services to be created, but there is a lot of uncertainty as to how to do it”.
Another respondent emphasised the importance of knowledge of business practices:
“If newly qualified music therapists were to graduate with some of the above-mentioned knowledge around business practices, they would be much better equipped for their transition from student to professional”.
This graduate survey contributes to knowledge about music therapy employment and graduation prospects in Ireland. The authors encourage other jurisdictions to conduct similar surveys to contribute to improved preparation of students internationally for professional practice and to support advocacy of the profession. Clinical professionals such as Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy might also benefit from similar maps of graduate employment. This simple survey has produced a wealth of information on the relevance of music for health and social care in current society, for example indicating that most music therapists are employed to work with children and adults with a range of intellectual and/or learning difficulties. Music therapists play an acknowledged role in services for adolescents, older people, people with dementia, in mental health settings and for early years development. Whilst this is unsurprising, it is helpful to note that new graduates are employed across the health and social care landscape in Ireland and that the majority of graduates are employed as music therapists within three months of graduation. While the health service ponders whether to recognise the profession of music therapy through its statutory recognition process, music therapists are highly successful in being employed on a self-employed, part-time basis, with just under 1 in 5 music therapists being employed by health, social care, or educational organisations. It appears that not only are employment prospects healthy for graduates of the MA Music Therapy in Ireland, but the profession is healthy and there is a recognised and substantial need for music therapy for vulnerable clients in Ireland. It is hoped that the knowledge gained from this graduate survey will contribute to statutory recognition of the profession. Most importantly the documented level of work undertaken in music therapy makes more compelling the need to safeguard vulnerable clients by protecting the title (and associated level of training and ethics) of music therapy professionals.
Ahessy, B. (2020) ‘Creative Arts Therapies in Ireland: Practice, professional engagement and employment’. Polyphony: The Journal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists. Available: http://polyphony.iacat.me/features/creative-arts-therapists-in-ireland-practice-professional-engagement-employment [Accessed 19th September 2021]
Ahessy, B. (2020) ‘Growing pains: Creative arts therapies in Ireland’, Polyphony: The Journal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists. Available: http://polyphony.iacat.me/features/growing-pains-the-creative-arts-therapies-in-ireland [Accessed 19th September 2021]
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General Data Protection Regulation [GDPR] (2018) Principles relating to processing of personal data [online]. Available: https://gdpr-info.eu/art-5-gdpr/ [Accessed 17th June 2021].
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Lisa Kelly is an Associate Teacher in Music Therapy at The University of Limerick. She is a graduate of the MA Music Therapy at The University of Limerick where she is currently completing her PhD studies in the area of music therapy, telehealth and dementia.
Hilary Moss is a Senior Lecturer in Music Therapy and the Course Director of the MA Music Therapy at The University of Limerick (UL). She is the founding member of the Arts and Health Research Network at UL and is a member of the Ageing Research Centre at the Health Research Institute, UL.