Nina Wollersberger, 23, from Salzburg in Austria, studied MSc Music Therapy at QMU full-time over two years. She graduated from QMU in 2017.

After spending her childhood in Austria, the USA and Germany, Nina decided to move to the UK to undertake her higher education. She knew already then that she wanted to become a music therapist, so decided to study BA (Hons) Music at Durham University, specialising in ethnomusicology (the study of music in its cultural context) and composition studies, before coming to QMU for her postgraduate studies.

In order to gain further relevant experience, Nina volunteered with an organisation called the Carers’ Respite Committee, which provides home visits to families with children with learning disabilities, as well as working as a summer camp counsellor in the USA for adults and children with disabilities.

Why did you choose to study MSc Music Therapy at QMU?

During my final year at Durham University, I applied to five courses in the UK offering a Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) accredited Masters in music therapy, as I wanted to continue in education immediately after finishing my undergraduate degree.

I was initially drawn to the course at QMU because it offered training in an eclectic mix of music therapy approaches, with lecturers coming from different backgrounds with a wide range of experiences. I was also intrigued to discover that QMU was the only university in the UK to offer an MSc rather than an MA in music therapy, thereby emphasising the strong research element of the course. Attending the interview reinforced my ambition to attend QMU, as I felt so welcomed by the course tutors and staff I met that day.

I’ve wanted to be a music therapist since I was a teenager, so this course was the necessary step in achieving the professional qualification that would allow me to practise in that area. I hoped the course would allow me to develop my musicianship, and that I would learn how to use music therapeutically. I also hoped that the course would allow me to develop personally into a confident professional.

Why did you choose to study in Edinburgh/Scotland?

I’ve always enjoyed exploring new places and I’d only been to Edinburgh once before moving here, but that really excited me! Edinburgh seemed like the perfect step up from Durham; slightly larger, still great student life and with lots of exciting festivals happening. At the same time, it wasn’t as overwhelming or expensive as London, where a lot of my friends were deciding to go. I was also looking forward to getting to know a new culture and learning to understand Scottish accents – I’m almost there!

How did you find the work load?

I felt the workload was adequate and manageable for a master’s level course. In addition to essays and presentations that contributed to our marks, other factors that influenced our learning were required aspects of the course. For example, a great deal of personal development occurs through processes of clinical supervision, attending personal therapy and the interpersonal learning group, as well as working on musicianship, so self-discovery and learning was an integral part of training as a music therapist.

Equally, these processes also serve as avenues of support for the student. In terms of guidance with assignments or any personal issues, personal academic tutors were the first point of call. All tutors were very open to providing support, were always responsive to emails and never hesitated to offer their time. I found all lecturers and tutors to be very caring and understanding, also showing a genuine interest in students and their development throughout the course.

Did you work during your studies at QMU?

I worked as a relief support worker for Autism Initiatives for the duration of the course, as well as offering music lessons for this organisation. These avenues matched up nicely with the nature of the course and allowed me to gain a greater understanding of autism spectrum condition, social care systems and music provisions in this area. This job has also allowed me to create connections within the social care field, and set up music therapy work following qualification. Though I have really enjoyed my work for the past two years, I had to be wary of not taking on too many hours, as this could impact my ability to maintain the academic standard required for the course.

How do you think your QMU degree has equipped you with the skills/knowledge to development your career?

I absolutely feel like I’ve developed my skills and grown into the role of music therapist over the past two years. Placement experiences in particular were invaluable. While the first year placement provided the opportunity to carry out clinical work under the supervision of a music therapist on site, second year placements created much more independence, which allowed not only for the development of clinical work with a new client group, but also the experience of setting up a music therapy provision in a setting that may be unfamiliar with this field of work.

Though this was challenging, it was an incredible learning experience and provided me with the practical and clinical skills necessary to set up work after qualifying. I also felt that the emphasis on research, and in particular the final year professional project equipped me with many of the skills needed to begin a career as a researcher in the field.

What top tips would you give prospective postgraduate students based on your own personal experience?

Make sure this is a course you are passionate and excited about! As music therapy has been a near lifelong ambition for me, I found it very easy to be enthusiastic about new experiences throughout the course, and willing to overcome obstacles when I was faced with them.

We were told on our first day that the course would change us, which proved to be entirely true, but in a good way! It was a never-ending process of self-discovery and professional development, as well as learning about others and building strong relationships with peers, which brings me to another piece of advice. Find people who make you feel valued and strong when you are studying – the support amongst our year group was invaluable and it was a privilege to share this experience with them!

What obstacles did you encounter (if any) during your studies and how did you overcome them?

I’ve always been a quiet person and I sometimes struggle with social anxiety. The education system can be difficult place because of this, with presentations, group work and speaking in front of others presenting a challenge. Though I struggled with these aspects at times, I believe the course helped me to become more confident in myself, which aided my anxiety in such circumstances. The supportive environment created by lecturers, tutors and peers also contributed to this positive change, as well as opportunities for self-exploration within supervision and personal therapy.

Is there anything that you might have done differently?

I wish I’d taken the time to continue more of my own music making – though I was exploring lots of new ways of making music with people, I really missed playing in concert bands and singing in choirs or musicals. I would encourage anyone to maintain their musical passions during the course as well as expanding on their musicianship in different ways!

What have you been doing since graduating from QMU?

About a month after completing the course, a work opportunity became available through my final year placement on a dementia ward. This took the form of a four-month pilot music therapy project with the NHS in Bonnyrigg. This was made possible through the support of my clinical placement supervisor Kate Pestell, who is Head of Arts Therapies at NHS Lothian.

I’m really looking forward to this opportunity to practice with a client group I’m very passionate about, as well as further developing my skills of working within a multi-disciplinary team in an NHS environment. In addition to this, after some requests for music therapy from individuals and social care services, I hope to set up as a freelance/private practitioner part-time.

Though I was open to moving around the UK and even internationally, after the opportunity for work arose, I decided to stay in Edinburgh. I’m looking forward to being a part of the music therapy community in Edinburgh, contributing to the development of the field in Scotland and continuing the relationships I have built with my peers over these years as we embark on our careers as music therapists! After gaining some practical experience in the field I am also hoping to return to education and complete a doctorate focusing on cultural identity or trauma work in music therapy, maybe at QMU now that the PhD programme has launched!

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"I was initially drawn to the course at QMU because it offered training in an eclectic mix of music therapy approaches, with lecturers coming from different backgrounds with a wide range of experiences."
Nina Wollersberger

Story published 2016 - 2017