Luke is a music therapist for Nordoff Robbins and hosts weekly sessions at Brain Injury Rehabilitation Trust (BIRT) services Daniel Yorath House and York House. Here, he shares his experiences of music therapy and working in neuro-rehab settings.

What is Nordoff Robbins music therapy?

Nordoff Robbins is the UK’s leading independent music therapy charity, dedicated to changing the lives of vulnerable and isolated people. We support thousands of people each year by working in partnership with schools, day centres, care homes, refugee centres, hospitals, hospices and mental health units, as well as at our open access centres and through community centres.

Nordoff Robbins music therapy is the specialist use of music to help facilitate physical and emotional wellbeing, reducing isolation and enabling people to develop and retain key communication skills. We run one-to-one and group sessions, using a wide range of instruments, including the voice. Music is often improvised, and we support people to develop their own ways of being musical.

Music therapy can help a child with autism to communicate, reduce anxiety for a person living with dementia or provide comfort for someone facing a terminal illness.

How does Nordoff Robbins music therapy help in neuro-rehab settings?

Nordoff Robbins music therapy can help in a variety of different ways. Beneficiaries with severe impairments due to brain injury might struggle to communicate very much at all, but through closely focussing on what sounds they are able to make, be it singing or through instruments, amazing things can happen. People’s sounds can become more intentional, and someone who is normally withdrawn and non-communicative can become suddenly engaged and fully present, expressing themselves through music.

Group music making opportunities can also provide the space for people to come together and engage in a collective social whole. This can enable staff and beneficiaries to see one another differently and appreciate and support each other’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Sometimes music therapy can be about helping someone to cope with their circumstances, and at other times it is to explore and celebrate strengths and a sense of identity, rather than working to a pre-determined goal. Through Nordoff Robbins music therapy I try to meet a person on a given day and support, challenge and develop strengths in whatever way is most useful in that moment.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

The craft of music therapy is a lifetime pursuit – and trying to constantly provide original improvised music that changes key, timing and feeling based on everything a beneficiary does can be a challenge. At points I will be able to hear the music that I think would be perfect to support someone’s drumming, but it might take a few more months of practice in that style before I can actually play it! We are always at the very limits of our abilities as musicians in this job, which is both daunting and exhilarating.

What do you enjoy the most?

I am constantly amazed by what music can mean to people. I remember starting my role and thinking, “Oh wow, how lucky I am that I have such a musical bunch of people here!” and as time has gone on and new beneficiaries continue to have incredibly strong relationships to and tastes in music, I’ve started to feel that it’s less of a fluke and more of a common human experience.

The aspect I enjoy the most is seeing what music therapy can bring to people living with brain injuries and the staff and families who support them. From tiny moments of connection to supporting people to perform, the moments where I see music truly helping are the times when I feel both proud and privileged to do the job I do.

Credit: Luke Wilson, Nordoff Robbins

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