Words by Smiley Team
Sandra Schembri is on a mission to bring music therapy to the forefront of mental health care.
Music therapy is a form of therapy that uses music, singing and instruments to help patients process and express their thoughts and feelings. As the CEO of Nordoff Robbins, the UK’s largest music therapy charity, Sandra has a deep understanding of what makes music therapy so important for society.
“As an organisation, we have quite limited resources, therefore we choose to focus on … those people who are marginalised in society,” Sandra told Smiley Movement. “And [those] for whom society might talk a big game, but for all intents and purposes … they are put in the ‘too hard to handle’ box. People for whom the world doesn’t recognise their way of communicating.”
But music therapy is a vastly misunderstood form of therapy. Because it is creative, and the results are so dependent on the individual, individuals who may not be capable of vocalising those results in the same way, it has hard to quantify the effectiveness of music therapy.
As useful as talking therapies like counselling and CBT are for some of us, for others, talking therapies just aren’t viable. For some people, speaking isn’t easy, or even possible, and so they need other ways to express themselves, through mediums like music.
“Music therapy falls under the ‘creative therapies’ bracket,” Sandra explains. “Creative therapies offer us a different way to feel and see the world.”
Many of the patients who attend music therapy through Nordoff Robbins are disabled in some way and, as a result, may struggle to communicate their thoughts and feelings to the world.
But Sandra has seen the effect it has on patients first-hand, of children unable to make even the smallest of vocalisations who, through the power of music therapy, begin to be able to speak and communicate.
“We see the power [music therapy] has, but it’s not a cure for cancer,” said Sandra. “It’s not a medical treatment, it’s not a medical intervention. It’s the holistic well-being of someone, for them to have agency in their lives in some way shape or form. For some of our clients, it’s the only time they get a sense of engagement with the world, but also the ability to affect change on the world.”
Nordoff Robbins is run entirely on donations, which also go towards training new music therapists. The charity runs a two-year Masters' course which musicians can apply for and, upon completion, will be qualified as music therapists.
It was once the case that to become a music therapist, you would need a myriad of different degrees and qualifications under your belt - but now, there are just two things that are important enough to make the list.
“What we ask for are people who are flexible in their musicianship,” explained Sandra. “And, do you want to be a social change agent?”
DONATE: You can donate to Nordoff Robbins, either on a one-off or monthly basis, to help provide ongoing support for people all over the UK.
VOLUNTEER: You can register to volunteer for Nordoff Robbins so that you can help to provide music therapy to those who need it most.
GET INVOLVED: Get stuck in and fundraise with Nordoff Robbins, so you can contribute to improving people’s lives.