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A day in the life of …... Diane Byrne

Diane Byrne

Diane Byrne works for Hampshire Music Service and divides her week between music therapy and music teaching.

Q: What is music therapy and how can it help?

A: This is a massive question as it means so many things to so many different people! Essentially it uses music as a bridge for people who find their communication is affected, impaired or too difficult to manage psychologically, emotionally or physically. The music becomes a channel for self-expression.

Sessions are for individuals or small groups and are client-led, involving structured activities, games or free improvisation and using a range of accessible instruments, voice and props such as puppets. There is no requirement for clients to have musical skills and some use elements of play, movement or speech in their sessions. It is vital for the therapist to think creatively and ‘outside the box’ in terms of working with music and approaches to using it with clients.

Q: Is your job a normal 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday job?

A: In a word, no!

I specialise in working with adults and children with learning disabilities and have a very mixed week, working in a variety of settings. A week could involve individual and group music therapy with adults and children, as well as individual and group music tuition (including the Hampshire Music Service Listen2Me programme).

In addition I run staff twilight training in schools and offer workshops and music fun activities for Mencap Saturday clubs and play schemes.

Q: That’s quite a mix! Anything else?

I have recently been involved with a Hampshire Music Service initiative working in respite care homes where I offered musical games and ideas to staff, I have presented at several of the Especially Music Conferences and am currently compiling two educational books. Add in my own Continuing Personal Development and my week is pretty full!

Q: How does your job fit in with Hampshire Music Service?

A: As both a music therapist and a teacher qualified in special needs and music I can offer Hampshire Music Service a broad range of experience and ideas for new projects such as the respite care home work.

Q: How did you start in music?

A: I’m lucky as I come from a very musical family so there was always the sound of someone practising in the house. I heard a flautist busking in the Underground when I was 8 years old and the sound was so amazing that I fell in love with the flute there and then. When I started secondary school I had the opportunity to try the flute and I’m still playing it 34 years later!

Q: What other instruments do you play?

A: I play the piano, recorder, piccolo and keyboard and am currently trying to develop my guitar skills as this is such a useful instrument in music therapy. I also collect and play lots of different ethnic wind instruments, such as ocarina, penny whistle, panpipes and didgeridoo and use a lot of percussion in my therapy work.

Q: How did you get into music therapy?

A: I started volunteering with young people with physical disabilities when I was a Guide, then continued volunteering with adults with learning disabilities. Music therapy was a way to combine this with my love of music. I studied for a teaching degree in music and special education and then studied further to qualify as a music therapist.

Q: What advice would you give a new therapist?

A: Don’t try to ‘go it alone’. I am helped by support groups and CPD events so I never feel alone with a problem. Talk to other therapists and arrange peer observations or joint working opportunities as you can learn so much from others. And enjoy it, it’s a wonderful career!

Q: What is the best bit of the job?

A: Definitely the people – staff, clients, pupils, families and carers and other professionals. I work with such a varied group of people and they all teach me so much in different ways. It’s a real privilege.

Q: And the worst?

A: Although some of my work is under contracts, I am self-employed for the majority of what I do. Often this means I have to negotiate fees and I’m hopeless discussing money. I also dread having to spend time sitting at a computer. I guess I’m a technophobe and I struggle to motivate myself to do this when I’d rather be with clients or pupils.

Q: How is music therapy changing and what exciting developments are on the horizon?

A: Music therapy is increasingly being seen as a valuable resource in education, alongside other health professions and people in the wider community are becoming more aware of music therapy and its value.

As funding becomes more of an issue, the need to prove our ‘value for money’, has led to an increase in evidence-based research. The areas in which music therapy is used continue to grow despite these financial pressures, and as our profession continues to grow, who knows where it will lead. Exciting times indeed!