Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Did you know?

...that music therapists are a unique brand of people? If you are reading this, then of course you do! Each music therapist approaches the act of therapy based on his or her experiences, ideas, interests, talents, relationships, and clients. Every session is completely different and that is the way it should be.

I am a music therapist.

I have often fell into the trap of comparing myself to others. The "I should be doing..." trap. I remember sitting in a presentation about music in geriatric settings and thinking, "I should know all the words to My Merry Oldsmobile." I felt that I was not a good music therapist because of my lack of knowledge. I then engaged in some cognitive retraining and thought, "I may not know that song, but most of these folks couldn't sing a Britney Spears song if their life depended on it." It was like a lightbulb went on over my head. I wasn't an inadequate therapist, I was the perfect therapist for the clients that I served.

I am a perfectionist. I am the first to admit that I want to be the best me that I can be. If I am not being the best I can be, I cause stress and distress for myself. I am my own harshest critic. There are times when the "I should" statements take over my life and keep me from progressing. I am constantly getting better.

My interns often display the same pattern of should-a would-a statements. I get a chance to help them avoid the same patterns that I find myself in on a regular basis. I often hear, "I should have sung the song a bit louder." "I should of watched all of the kids more closely." There are some things that you just can't do during a group session when you are leading musical experiences, managing behaviors, communicating, and also planning/evaluating what is happening in the session.

Where do we get the should-a could-a syndrome?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Therapeutic Use of Self

Music therapy is a combination of client, music, and therapist. We do not often discuss the use of therapists in the therapeutic relationship, but the therapist is a key to the success or failure of music therapy.

I have a slight headache today and have not slept as much as I needed to last night. This will affect my interactions today. I will try to remain consistent, positive, and focused on others during the day. This is perhaps the most difficult part of being a therapist - ignoring the personal in favor of the therapeutic.

To be a therapist, you have to find the balance between "you" and "therapist." I take my baggage with me into every session. I will be taking my current insomnia, my slight headache, and my current outlook on life, my job, etc. into every session. I can try to stuff all of that deep into me and not let it affect my life, or I can use it as part of therapy to assist me in working with my clients.

The challenge is to walk the fine line between using your "self" and letting your "self" take over the relationship. In therapy, I have to use part of my "self" when I am interacting with my clients. If I do not, I am not being an authentic person or therapist. If I use too much of my "self" in the session, I will not be an effective therapist.

The very premise of music therapy is that a therapist is part of the relationship used to guide and shape the client's response to music. If the therapist cannot be client-focused during the session, music therapy will not occur.

Is this the reason why therapists burn out? The lack of understanding that while the client has a "self" to contribute to the therapy session, the therapist also has a "self" that contributes and is part of the therapeutic relationship. If you attempt to stifle or stuff the therapist's "self," you end up being inauthentic to the client. There will come a time when you will need to engage in "self" care. This must never happen during the session.

"Self" care is important.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

June 5, 2010

In the past two days, I have been the flag carrier for the behavioral movement in music therapy. I have tried to demonstrate the commonalities between music therapists rather than the differences. It has been an interesting exercise as I do not think in the same terms as folks from different philosophical backgrounds. I am enriching my vocabulary and nomenclature with every post.

Others have started to speak up as well. We have had several posts where people have protested the anti-behavioral climate of the listserv, the negative criticism of presentations offered through our organization, and general dissatisfaction with some of the things that occur on the listserv. This is good, healthy, and needed so we can become a more cohesive group of professionals.

The other thing that has happened in the past two days is that I am on the organizing committee of the first online conference for music therapy. It is scheduled for March 5-6, 2011 and will probably take up some time. It is pretty exciting to be in on the ground floor, and I will enjoy the new challenge. All you need is a computer, microphone, and webcam. I have all three of those! I will need to develop a presentation idea.

Lots of things percolating in the music therapy world right now. It is thrilling to be in the mix of things.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Getting Fed Up and Opening Your Big Mouth...

I did it. I got defensive and upset at a blowhard from the music therapy listserv yesterday. He stated, "If we were to lean on this concept toward defining music therapy, those practicing from a behavioral orientation would be shut out" in reference to understanding our clients through their music. I got defensive and wrote about it in a response. He backtracked and stated that he did not mean that we would be shut out of the profession, even though that was what he intimated in the email. I received several statements of support, especially regarding my plea to stop knocking other philosophical viewpoints in favor of your own.

Then, I started to think about how I understand my clients through their music. I imagine my understanding is much like any other therapist's understanding. I may translate their music a bit differently, but I am still engaging in analyzing their rhythms, tempos, melodies, harmonies, dissonances, consonances, engagement, instrument choices and uses, lyrics, and other aspects of music. There really isn't a difference, in my mind, about how I understand my clients through their music and how I would understand them if I practiced using a different music therapy modality. I think the real issue is being client-directed and allowing the client to be the driving force in the music therapy session. I was asked to clarify my position as a behaviorist, and I think I am almost ready.

How does anyone really understand another through music? We truly cannot know everything that is going on in the heads of another person. We can only react to what we see, hear, and interpret on our own.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Defining Music Therapy

The next problem taking over the listserve right now is a debate between two VERY active philosophical types. How do we define an undefinable profession?

Here is the AMTA definition:

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program
(American Music Therapy Association, 2010).

I find myself explaining what music therapy is through the AMTA definition - which is very vague - and then through examples of what music therapists do in their sessions. The AMTA definition is never sufficient to illustrate what we do with clients. I find that examples provide a clearer picture of what music therapy is and can be...

Why is it so difficult to define our profession?

Part of the problem is that music therapists have vastly different job responsibilities, therapeutic aims, and techniques. There are many schools of thought about why music is a therapeutic modality, how music works, and what music should do and be in the therapeutic environment.

The complexity of this profession is what makes it interesting.

The complexity of this profession is what makes it difficult.

The complexity of this profession is what makes it so difficult to get along as professionals.

I am not sure if I agree that we cannot come to a common definition of music therapy, but it is true that our definition will have to be vague enough to satisfy all schools of thought and clinical practices. The definition has to include the three parts of the therapeutic triad - client, music, and therapist, but it could be written in a way that allows for the differences and similarities between all music therapists.

How is this for a try:

Music therapy is a profession where a trained professional applies various aspects of music and musical behavior to assist clients towards the achievement of nonmusical goals.

Blech. This is not an easy exercise.

The three elements of a music therapy session are the important part of what we do. We, as music therapists, must have a client. The client has to be the focus of the therapeutic intervention in every therapist's session regardless of therapeutic philosophy. We appear to forget that important person when we try to define music therapy. The client is alluded to in the AMTA definition, but not the focus.

Here is another try:

Music therapy is a treatment modality where a trained therapist assists each client in achieving nonmusical treatment goals in a variety of domains through the use of music and musical elements. Focusing on the client, the therapist develops a personalized treatment regimen centers around music performance, listening, and awareness.

Better, but not there yet...

This is quite a conundrum. Anyone out there have a good definition? Anyone want to join the conversation??

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Marketing to the Music Therapist

I am in the process of designing products for music therapists, music educators, and others interested in music-enhanced education. I am trying to figure out how to demonstrate my tools and products to music therapists who work with children and adolescents in educational settings. I guess I will try to do some stuff through the listserve.

One of the blessings and disadvantages to being a music therapist is the difficulty in defining our profession. Each of us offers a very different music therapy experience to our clients. This makes things complicated because what I find to be an important tool might not be important to any other music therapist.

So, why are we so very different? I think there is variation because of the nature of music and the nature of each member of the therapeutic experience. I get to change my nature with each set of clients that enter the music therapy room. My music changes as well to accommodate client interests, preferences, and needs.


I have a real difficulty with people who are of the opinion that their way of practicing music therapy is the best or only way of practicing. I think that the attitude of being right distracts from their primary mission - using music to affect changes in the life of their client. I know that I borrow from different philosophies of music therapy to provide therapy services to my clients. My techniques and interventions change when my clients need different forms of therapy. If I limited myself to only one "right" methodology, I would be short-changing my clients.

Having said all that, I am primarily a behaviorist. I borrow concepts from sensory integration, Nordoff-Robbins (just some of the basic concepts as I am not and will not be trained), Neurologic Music Therapy (which I have been trained to use), cognitive and behavioral psychology. I am good at mood vectoring as well as using the Iso-principle to change the behavior states of my clientele. I am not someone who is trained in psycho-dynamic music therapy techniques, though I have read about the philosophy extensively. I do not pretend to be a psycho-dynamic therapist and will be the first to state that I do not practice in that manner. I do not feel that I am better than those in the p-d camp, even though they definitely appear to think that they are better than me.

Why is that? I wonder. Obviously the rancor between former NAMT and AAMT members has not be alleviated through the merger of the two former associations into the current AMTA. As someone who was a music therapist before and after the merger, I do not understand why there are people in the music therapy world that refuse to talk to me simply because I live in a former NAMT college town.


I have been engaged in conversation with people who stop the conversation when they see that my nametag displays my town. They have said, and I quote, "It's a good thing that I talked to you before I knew where you were from. I wouldn't have listened to you if I had known you were from there." Others look at my tag and walk away. I have been branded as a traitor simply because of my choice of educational program.

I feel strongly that we, as music therapists, will not be able to grow in numbers or professional status until we, as music therapists, are truly united in our desire to use music as a therapeutic tool to help our clients achieve their goals. There shouldn't be strife. There shouldn't be hard feelings for things that went on in the past. We have been one association for twelve years now. There are several generations of professionals who have no idea what the issues were that led to the split or to reunification.

Get over it.

There. That is my tirade for the day.