Rachael Stalker

Students & Alumni. Music Therapy.

Rachael Stalker standing next to tree

Rachael Stalker graduated from our MA Music Therapy degree in 2022, and now works as a music therapist at a Special Needs School near Cambridge.

What have you been doing since you graduated?

I started my job just a week after finishing my Master’s. I interviewed and received a job offer as a music therapist at a Special Needs School just outside of Cambridge. I currently work full-time across two organisations which provide music therapy at three different schools, working with a broad range of disabilities and ages.

My placements provided me with many lessons to take into my career. Specifically, from my second placement, when working amongst people who have minimal understanding of music therapy. I found it vital to be able to explain the importance of music therapy and the benefits it can provide to the clients. Also, building the confidence to be able to take control and guide the support staff in sessions.

There are so many different skills I have learnt on my placement which have been essential for my development as a newly qualified professional.

Where did you take your work placements, and what roles did you take on?

My first placement was at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-Disability (RHN) and my second was with Oxleas NHS Trust in Greenwich. I was a trainee music therapist at both.

At RHN a typical day started with arriving and collecting my scrubs, changing, and signing in with my supervisor.  I would usually have one seminar a week with a member of the therapy team focusing on an element of working on the ward. I had a client case load of three, which included individual sessions and joint sessions with other therapies. I was also involved with two groups on the ward, and had weekly supervisions with my on-site supervisor.

At Oxleas NHS Trust my days were community based, so I was across a few different sites. One day a week I was at a mainstream primary school working with looked after children. The other day I was split across a community centre for nursery age children and at the main therapies building where I worked with children with autism diagnoses. I would also have weekly supervision and opportunities to observe other music therapists on the team across different settings.

What support did you get from ARU and your placement providers?

In the first year I received the entry bursary, which helped fund my travel to the placement. The course team provided group supervision with my peers to go through our experiences and gain insight to other people’s experiences. We also received 1-2-1 tutor sessions, where we could talk with the lecturers about our placements.

My placement supported me by giving me two weeks of observation and meeting my clients before starting clinical work. I had weekly supervisions and opportunities for my supervisor to observe me whilst working. I was invited to the organisation’s CPD days where I was able to learn important techniques, network with other professionals in the same field and gain support and insight to my future career.

What's the most valuable thing you will take away from your placement?

That I took every opportunity given to me, and took on board every piece of advice I was given from those who were supporting me. It was difficult at times, but taking these opportunities allowed me to develop in my chosen career path and prepared me better for the working world.

My first individual client has been a huge inspiration for me moving through the start of my career. This client was a patient at RHN and I worked with him for three months. Being able to see the influence of music therapy on his progress really solidified my confidence and belief in my chosen career, and knowing it was right for me. He progressed from minimal cognitive and motor function to being able to walk with support, form single word responses to questions, make choices and perform functional tasks such as putting his shoes on. My supervisor at the time told me that you never forget your first client, and this I know is true. I think about that client often and how working with him shaped my development as a music therapist.

Which other aspects of the placement helped your career development, and why?

It allowed me to experience what a working day would look like, learn to keep records for clients, network with other staff members, provided me with job interview opportunities and gave me the chance to practice presentations and gain advice for other assessments in the Master’s course. My clinical supervisor on my second placement mentored me through the interview process for jobs, encouraged me to apply for jobs (including the one I hold now) and boosted my confidence in my skill and ability to do the job right.

Having completed your placement, what piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell myself that it will be challenging and at times feel overwhelming -  especially at the beginning when you’re learning so much - but it will all pay off when you complete your placements, with a huge amount of knowledge and experience under your belt, ready to take into your first job.

Do you have any advice for other students undertaking a work placement?

Keep going! Make sure you get some good rest between your placement days and listen to everything your supervisor tells you - their words are like gold dust!

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