"Having the opportunity to do a placement with the dementia day service at the Eric Liddell Centre has given me so much experience in what it takes to be a good music therapist."
Undergraduate Music student, Rebecca Tait, talks about her 5-month placement with the Eric Liddell Centre, Dementia Day Service
Why did you choose to complete a placement/why did you choose a programme with a compulsory placement year?
Studying a music degree was always going to be a stepping stone for me to go on and do a music therapy masters, so, when the opportunity to get experience in the music therapy field during my undergraduate degree came up I had to go for it! The placement was going to give me experience leading and facilitating music based activities for both small and large groups of clients who have dementia which would provide me with invaluable experience for my future studies and career.
What does your role entail? What activities were you involved in during your placement?
Because the placement was alongside the final year of my degree, I was only required to go into the centre one day a week (I kept this day the same each semester to allow me to get to know the clients better). My role while on placement was to plan and lead music based activities for the clients which would help them to relax, get some exercise and stimulate their memories through the music I used. The great thing about this placement was that the staff at the day service gave me full creative control of what I wanted to with the clients as long as I felt that it would be beneficial for them which was amazing! I just had to run it past my supervisor the week before and then I could go for it. This allowed me to discover what I was capable of in a ‘music therapist’ role and really explore and experiment with new ideas to see if they would be effective for my clients and research tried and tested methods to use as foundation for my sessions. It also enabled me to see the work involved to effectively plan music therapy sessions that had the client’s best interests at heart as I was completely responsible for the sessions I delivered. As well as doing the music activities I also got really involved in the other activities at the day service and was able to spend a lot of time just chatting to the clients and getting to know them which was really helpful when it came to planning my sessions because I got to know what music they enjoyed and the types of things they liked and disliked.
Could you please describe a typical day in your role/placement?
I would arrive at the Eric Liddell Centre at 8:30am for a staff meeting where we would discuss the program and which clients we were expecting. The clients would then arrive, and we gave them a light breakfast with a tea or coffee and had a chat with them. The rest of the day was then split into two activity slots, each lasting approximately 45 minutes – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – with lunch in the middle. The morning sessions tended to have multiple activity options (e.g. music session, scrabble, or current affairs) and the clients would choose which activity they would like to do. Following the morning session everyone would gather together for a short exercise session and some lunch. The afternoon sessions usually had everyone gather together again for a large group activity like a quiz or sing-along, but the layout of the activity sessions sometimes changed depending on what activities were on offer. After the afternoon session the clients would return home and the staff would stay behind to clear up and prepare for the next day.
What (skills/qualities) have you learnt/developed during your placement? /What have you gained from the experience?
Being on a placement where I had to implement what I had learned in classes in a work environment was such an incredible opportunity and I learned so much about what working in the field was like. One of the most important things I learned was the value of flexibility. Sometimes I would go into the centre with a plan of exactly what I wanted to do in my session and what I wanted to achieve and I would have to go completely off book and improvise either because I had planned for more clients than ended up coming to my session or because my clients were not responding positively to the session I had planned. Working with a group of clients with dementia also opened my eyes to the other things that need to be thought about when preparing a music therapy session. For example, many of my clients were on anticoagulant medication which prolongs the amount of time it takes for blood to clot and makes you bruise very easily, so I had to be very conscious when creating activities of ensuring that they posed no risk to my clients – I had never really thought about this before going on placement. This placement also inspired a research project that I did as part of my final year and using my experiences with clients to inform how I created my project so that it could be helpful for others was such an asset to the final product.
What was your most notable achievement on placement?
One of the sessions I kept coming back to while on placement involved percussion instruments called ‘Boomwhackers’ which are coloured plastic tubes that sound at different pitches depending on the length. I set out each Boomwhacker session into three stages: a rhythmic exercise, harmonising, and finally, playing Frère Jacques as a group. The first few times I led this activity we would only manage up to the harmonising stage and didn’t manage to play through the song. However, on one of my final weeks when I led the activity, we managed to play through the song three times. I was so proud of all of my clients and they were all smiling and laughing while they played which was incredible. I don’t know if that is a notable achievement, but it is definitely one of the most rewarding moments I had while on placement.
What advice would you give to students looking to complete a placement?
I’d say 100% go for it! Even if it isn’t exactly what you are looking for, any experience you can get in your field will be hugely beneficial in the future and you will develop new skills and learn things that you just can’t learn in classes or lectures.
How will the placement benefit you when you return to study at the University? /or affect future career plans?
Having the opportunity to do a placement with the dementia day service at the Eric Liddell Centre has given me so much experience in what it takes to be a good music therapist and has only fuelled my desire to study it further. I have learned so many new skills from both clients and staff that I could never have learned otherwise – also, being able to say on my masters’ application that I did a placement during undergraduate is quite nice.