Working therapeutically in Dementia care

Ben Cowley, Music Therapy student

Ben is a Lifestyles Co-Ordinator for Hallmark Care Homes, working at one of their homes in south Wales. He is also studying the part-time MA Music Therapy degree at USW.

Using music therapeutically

As I have a strong background in music, I facilitate a lot of music-orientated activities including a choir and sing-alongs. It’s a very person-centred role, so no day is the same and we are really encouraged to help residents continue doing things that are important to them. We are able to make a positive impact through meaningful activities and generally can make most things happen within reason. Being a music therapy student has really informed me how to deliver these activities more effectively.

Notable achievements 
Implementing more music in the activities schedule! I have set up a choir for residents in the home and they had their first performance at Christmas performing a carol service in the reception area. It was such a lovely atmosphere and I think they were thrilled to see a printed programme with their names inside. I also spend a lot of one-to-one time with residents in the dementia community, singing to them and/or playing the piano, especially where they are less mobile or it is perhaps unsafe for them to leave the community.

I have a fantastic management team who really encourage and trust me to use my initiative and instinct, especially when it comes to my musical talents. I also gain a lot of strength and inspiration from the comfort that has been expressed by friends and relatives of residents; they really appreciate that illness does not stop meaningful interactions happening, especially through the music activities I have brought to the home. I’ve seen health deteriorate in some residents yet they seem to retain a love for music and can be often revitalised when I sing or play piano.

About the Music Therapy course

When you complete an undergraduate music degree the focus is very much on being the best performer you can be. During the Music Therapy course I’ve loved the freedom to improvise without judgement as well as explore lots of percussion instruments I wasn’t overly familiar with. I’ve also really enjoyed the self-discovery aspect of the course that comes from personal therapy and the group experiential work as well as the weekly music improvisation group.

What I like most about working toward becoming a Music Therapist is that the career possibilities are quite varied and it’s ultimately up to you to decide which client groups and settings are best suited to you. The placements are really good learning experiences for that. The age ranges are very mixed on this course.

If you’re worried if you’re too old or too young, neither should be a concern! To put it in perspective, I am 31 and my peers are both sides of my age. The Music Therapy course has made me a more confident person so I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone thinking about enrolling. It is very much suited to those with a proficient musical background, however, it is also important to want to learn how to use music to help others.