Monday, January 16, 2012

Music Therapy Advocacy Month- Our Most Powerful Advocates

Advocacy --> Recognition --> Access
Since 2005, the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists have collaborated on a State Recognition Operational Plan. The primary purpose of this Plan is to get music therapy and our MT-BC credential recognized by individual states so that citizens can more easily access our services. The AMTA Government Relations staff and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff provide guidance and technical support to state task forces throughout the country as they work towards state recognition. To date, their work has resulted in thirty-five active state task forces, two licensure bills passed in 2011, and an estimated ten bills being filed in 2012 that seek to create either a music therapy registry or license for music therapy. This month, our focus is on YOU and on getting you excited about advocacy.


A story Paul Nolan (my teacher when I was in graduate school at Drexel University) loves to share is about how he used to constantly drill us in class to answer the question he insisted our clients would inevitably ask us: What am I going to get out of this? How is music therapy going to help me?

I, who had already been a music therapist for thirteen years with people who didn’t use speech to communicate, was convinced this was never going to happen.


Well, I was doing my internship at Hahnemann Hospital when I was referred by one of the psychiatrists to work with a man who was struggling with depression related to the spread of his cancer. Would you believe, the first words out of his mouth after my brief introduction and explanation of who I was and what I was there to do, were: What am I going to get out of this? How is music therapy going to help me?


I think I probably scared him a bit when I laughed out loud, and I asked him if my teacher had put him up to this.  And then, after explaining Paul’s perpetual insistence on our being able to answer this question, I answered him.

He agreed to let me sit with him and play music. But he was absolutely clear in his refusal to take part in any way other than to suggest a few songs and to listen. So that’s what we did.

We had a couple of sessions, and he’d gone home and that was the last I’d heard.

A few weeks later, I happened to be walking to the nurse’s station in the different unit of the hospital, and, as I walked by one of the rooms, I heard someone call out: Hey! Music Lady! Would you mind coming in? I have something to show you.

As it turned out, he was back in the hospital- sicker this time. And, although his participation during sessions had been rather minimal, he had remembered his experience in music therapy when he went home. He said he’d told his family all about it. And when he had to be re-admitted he had decided to bring along some of his own music (that he wanted to tell me about), and he also brought a record album (yes, a vinyl record album) of a band made up of a bunch of guys he knew back in the late 1970s. During one of his previous music therapy sessions he mentioned that he had taken a photograph of them, and they liked it so much they made it their album cover. And he had been hoping I’d come by, so he could show this to me.

Now, many years later, as I’m sitting here contemplating this idea of advocacy, I’m realizing that one of the ways we start to know how important music therapy is to our clients is when they begin to become their own advocates- when they want more music therapy, and they do what it takes to get services.


A question that often comes up when I tell people I’m a music therapist and I work with folks who have a variety of intellectual and developmental disabilities (just after the usual “How interesting! What is music therapy?” question) is: How do you know it’s making a difference? If your clients are severely disabled and can’t tell you, how can you know whether or not your clients are benefiting from music therapy?

And I tell them sometimes it takes the form of my realizing that, after years of my client sitting and waiting for me to invite him or her to music therapy, he is now standing up when I come in the room to greet me and pull me to the door so we can go to his session. 

Or it's deciding that snack time (which can be considered one of the holiest times of day for some of my clients) is less important than going to music therapy and rushing through snacks so we can get to a session. 

At other times, it’s someone picking up an instrument for the first time to play it and not throwing it across the room.

I always think it’s cool when my clients (again, this is after many years of waiting for me to approach them and ask if they want to come to music therapy), see me go into the room where we have our group session, get up on their own and start to come in while I’m preparing the space.

An even more important way that I know what we're doing matters and is "working" is when my clients tell me (usually through their actions) "no" they'd rather not have music therapy on a given day. Because, ultimately, isn't being one's own advocate what we're working to support?

So, in this month of music therapy advocacy, I want to propose the following:

There is no more powerful music therapy advocate than a person who has been receiving our services and has gotten to a point where s/he wants to make sure those services continue.

And what a wonderful testament to the importance of the work we do when our clients can become their own advocates!

For lots more blog posts about music therapy advocacy, 
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1 comment:

Becoming Dr Doc said...

I agree wholeheartedly that our clients are our greatest advocates, and are often the ones that get missed when we think about who we advocate to and for.

I love that you mentioned the fact that it is important to recognise when they are saying no and how important this is.

I love reading your blog because I find you so insightful and unlike many music therapists who have been working in the same place for a long time, you are constantly questioning and learning. Your reflexive way of being is very inspiring. Thanks