Saturday, February 7, 2009

Where have all the music therapists gone?

Since I've been sick all week I only actually worked about a total of 9 hours.  As such, I've been roaming through other people's blogs.  

While roaming, I found this interesting post by Ryan Howes on the topic of therapist burnout.

Music therapists have only recently begun to talk about the fact that we burn out. A lot. So many music therapists end up getting advanced degrees outside of the field- or they simply move into other, completely unrelated fields.

I've thought about some of the reasons for this, and here are some of my ideas:
  • Music therapists often work in isolation.  We're usually the only creative arts therapist in our facility. Or, if we have a private practice, we may be one of the very few music therapists we know. 

  • There is a frequent lack of awareness, respect for, or understanding of the education and training it takes to do the work we do.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've had musicians or therapists say to me that they do "music therapy" in this facility or the other, and "no, of course, I don't need a degree in music therapy."

  • Music therapy training is comprehensive, but no matter how much one learns in school, there's only so much an academic program can do to prepare someone to be a therapist. 
  • Most music therapists aren't aware of what clinical supervision is, let alone that it exists. When I present my work I often share the fact that, in the first six years of being a music therapist, I went to work with a knot in my stomach every single day. I felt like I didn't know what I was doing, that I was somehow not doing a very good job, that I should always know what to do and how to intervene, but I didn't, and on and on. Deciding to get clinical supervision from a more experienced music therapist saved my music therapy life! I think if more music therapists knew about clinical supervision, they'd make use of it and be more likely to stay in the field.

  • Music therapy isn't exactly lucrative. Economic realities sometimes force clinicians out of the field. Back in 1987, when I was initially searching for a job, I found myself applying for a full-time job that paid $13,000 for a music therapist with a bachelor's degree and $15,000 for someone with a master's degree. Yikes!

  • It's also sometimes rather difficult, depending on one's location, to find music therapy jobs.  There's an awful lot of educating and demonstrating that needs to go on in order to create job opportunities in this field.
  • I know some music therapists who've gotten advanced degrees outside of the field have told me they wanted more knowledge in a particular area specific to the populations they served (i.e., they became speech therapists or occupational therapists, or they got a master's degree in social work or special education).  More often than not, though, I think it's because there are better job prospects in those fields. I had thought about the same thing, but, again, because of clinical supervision, I decided to get my master's degree in music therapy.
None of this, of course, is meant to be judgmental.  I just find it sad that our field often seems to be shrinking almost as fast as it grows.


Ryan said...

I'm glad you haven't burned out, Roia. I hope someday you are compensated fairly!

Michelle Erfurt said...

Good points Roia. I'd like to add that Music therapists often DO work in physical isolation from other mts BUT we do not live in communication isolation. There is a decent-sized online mt community to connect with. Often, people forget to reach out in that direction.

I was once told by a experienced, long time music therapist that Music Therapy is a stepping stone into other careers and that no one becomes an mt and stays an mt. Hearing this made me very sad. People become burned out because they are not receiving satisfaction in what they are doing. It's due to the therapist's lack of a support system or focus on a personal mission.

Roia said...

Wow, that really is a sad statement (that music therapy would be a "stepping stone into other careers, etc." I immediately think of people like Edith Boxill and Clive Robbins and wonder how someone could make that generalization.

While it's true there are a lot of ways to connect with other music therapists online, I don't think anything can beat live, consistent face-to-face interaction (or even consistent phone connection) within the context of a clinical supervision/mentorship type of relationship.

I know I go on and on (and on!) about this topic (supervision, I mean), but, to me, without the depth that comes with personal growth and a willingness to live with a level of uncertainty in our work (because we've faced it in our own lives), it's very easy to get bored or simply frustrated and to give up on this field. And that's such a shame, because music therapy is so rich and multi-faceted!