There is a definite buzz in the air about music therapy! Can you feel it?
I’m not sure how it started, I only know why – because music therapy works! Recently, music therapy has been all over the airwaves, the news, in books and in a feature length Hollywood film. And yet, as a recent discussion on the MUSTHP-L listserv highlighted, many music therapists continue to have to describe and defend their work on a daily basis. Why is that? Here are some of my thoughts as well as observations from a student in my “Introduction to Music Therapy” class from this past semester.
1. Music is universal
The universality of music is wnquestionable. It has existed in every known culture since the beginning of man even though, curiously, it has no “inherent survival value” like food or shelter (Davis, Gfeller, Thaut. 2008). This is both a blessing and a detriment to the understanding of the term, “music therapy (MT)”. Yes, people understand the term, “music” but that has become synonymous with “entertainment” in today’s modern culture. Hence, when people hear about MT they immediately think that it is something that is entertaining, not healing – at least in the medical sense. As one of the class members described,
“I knew from my personal experience with music that it moved me, however I did not know how in depth music therapy really was.”
(A.B. Used with permission)
2. Music works with all age groups
Music therapists work with all age groups, from infants in the uterine environment to adults in the last stage of their life. How can something that works with such a vast range of clients, work in reality? When music therapy began as an organized profession, it initially began with a psychological focus. Since that time, specialty areas within the field have grown and expanded tremendously. Hence, increasingly, music therapists are choosing to work with a particular clientele, rather than attempting to work with a variety of clients, throughout the lifespan. Some of these include: work with premature infants (NICU-MT), neurological rehabilitation (NMT), Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy (NR-MT), Therapeutic Drumming, Music and Imagery (Bonny Method of GIM) and Community Music Therapy (CMT).
3. Music therapists train extensively and must pass rigorous examination
Just as you wouldn’t want to see a doctor who has never attended medical school, you shouldn’t see someone who is calling themselves a music therapist without the proper training. Sadly, at this time, there is no means of legally protecting the title “music therapist” in either Canada or the United States. There are ways, however, to determine whether an individual has completed the requisite education and professional training.
In order to become a music therapist, individuals must first complete four years of undergraduate training in music therapy. This is the minimal standard and many music therapists continue onto graduate level education. They must also complete an internship of approximately six months duration (1000-1050 hours in North America). Only then, may they apply to become a Music Therapist Accredited (MTA – Canada) or a Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC, USA). Before granting these designations, a music therapist must complete additional examinations. In addition, those designations are only maintained by the ongoing completion of continuing education related to professional practice and skills.
Being a part of their national and/or regional association also means that a music therapist must abide by professional standards of practice and a code of professional ethics. When a music therapist agrees to take you on as a client, you begin a professional relationship, not a casual or friendly relationship. As such, there is specific protection of things such as: patient-therapist confidentiality and protection from abuse in the relationship (financial, physical, emotional, psychological and sexual). By all means, check out your music therapists and ask them about their credentials. They should be happy to share these with you!
So what can we do as music therapists to improve your understanding of music therapy amongst the general public?
1. Maintain our memberships in national and regional music therapy associations.
2. Making the promotion of music therapy a priority in our national and regional music therapy associations.
3. Open up our newsletters and research to the public through use of vehicles such as YouTube, Blogs, and Creative Commons licensing instead of keeping them locked away behind “member only” walls and proprietary journals.
4. Continue to respond to questions about the topic – “What is music therapy?” even though we are sometimes “sick” of having to describe and defend our profession.
Davis, W. B., Gfeller, K. E, & Thaut, M. H. (2008). An introduction to music therapy: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). Silver Spring, MD: American Music Therapy Association, p. 17.
How can we improve your understanding of music therapy?
Please feel free to comment below.