A British Music Therapist in Sweden

Sarah Erskine, British music therapist in Sweden

21st December 2022

In a recent meeting of the EMTC North Region Country Representatives, we discussed the question of how we might best encourage and support music therapists who come to our countries from abroad. As one result of our conversation, we decided to share a post about one such music therapist’s experience. Sarah Erskine is a UK trained music therapist who moved with her husband and daughter to Sweden in 2017. We sent her some questions about her professional journey:

Can you tell us about your professional career path - what did you do before training as a music therapist and what led you to train as a music therapist?

I had wanted to be a music therapist for years after reading an article about the power of music to heal children orphaned in Cambodia’s killing fields.

As a child I always loved music, singing and playing all the time. I studied for a degree in music which in some ways was such a struggle I tried to run away from music due to the pressure to compete and performance anxiety. However, I did not entirely succeed in running away and, after a few years working in other jobs, and playing mainly privately, I felt a strong pull to share music again. A friend helped me put my CV in order and throw it out to all the local schools, with the result that I spent about ten years leading singing and musicianship groups in primary schools, writing funny and educational songs, running a community choir, and parent and baby singing. The pull to music therapy was still there and I hit a “now or never” moment in my late 30s when I just decided to apply for the training.

In 2016 I completed the master course at the University of West of England in Bristol and began working more and more with music and recovery groups, and in dementia care homes in Brighton. However, I did not get fully established after qualifying in the UK as my daughter was born a few months later. We made the move to Sweden when she was one. My husband is half Swedish and we had talked for years about spending extended time in Sweden so, when the opportunity for a flat swap with a Swedish family friend arose, we seized the moment.

What was the process for getting established as a foreign music therapist in Sweden? What were the challenges and how did you overcome them?

In Sweden music therapy does not have the same status or registration requirements as the UK, and it was hard to know where to start. Two really good things happened. Firstly, I bumped into Andrew Darlison from the UK at the Nordic Music Therapy conference in 2018 and he gave me some wise advice to start with where I was and just see what happened. Timely and brilliant! Secondly, I had the good fortune to meet Katarina Lindblad, who is now the EMTC Country Representative for Sweden, and start doing some freelance private work in Musikterapi Centrum in Stockholm. Katarina and Marit, who run the centre, have been an incredible support and literally opened up doors for me in Sweden. I was able to get my first job with Musikbojen, Sweden’s only charitable organisation for music therapy, with references from them and start to feel part of the music therapy community in Sweden. I am also grateful to contacts made through my local Church of Sweden who allowed me to start singing groups, which have been great for language and connection building. So now, I am working part time for Musikbojen in a project with Ukrainian children and families, and part time in church based community music projects.

And finally . . . what advice would you give to other music therapists considering relocating to another country?

My advice to others thinking about moving is . . . join networks, or groups of music therapists if they exist. Be open to it taking time to get established. Learn the language. And do what Andrew told me to do, start where you are! Whatever contacts you can make – just do something!  Lead a singalong, play a small concert, get people making music together and see what happens!

Sarah Erskine

One of the aims of the EMTC is to “promote the further development of professional practice in Europe, and to foster exchange and collaboration between member countries.” We are always glad to hear stories of how this aim is achieved in practice. Please send us information about stories like Sarah’s, so they can inspire music therapists across Europe! If you lack time, English language skills or inspiration to write a finished article, we can help overcome all those difficulties. Just send an email to emtc.publicrelations@gmail.com with the basic information and we will help with the rest!