Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Music Therapy and Advocacy, part 1

As a board certified Music Therapist, I am constantly advocating for the field of Music Therapy. How do I do this?

Well, music therapy advocacy happens in many ways.

I define music therapy on a daily basis for many different types of people from a variety of occupations. I allow people to observe music therapy sessions, so that they can experience first hand the power of music therapy. When it's re-certification time to keep my MT-BC status, I share with others the great variety of skills and information that we are required to know, in order to pass the music therapy board exam.

One of the most interesting things about advocacy is that anyone can do it. You can have a loud or a quiet personality. You can have a lot or little to no experience with public speaking. Advocacy happens anytime you tell someone about music therapy and share some of your experiences in the field. Advocacy happens when you share your stories.

I invite you to enjoy part one of the story below, written by
Dr.Dena Register
, a Board Certified Music Therapist.

Sharing Your Story, Making a Change (Part 1)

Part of being a music therapist is sharing your stories—incredible stories—of the triumphs, both great and small, that you encounter every day.

We often have the opportunity to witness the absolute best in the human condition, from the new parents who are learning to adapt and support their pre-mature infant to the family who is grappling with a hospice diagnosis of a loved one. It is not unusual to hear (or say) the phrase “power of music” in our work with patients or clients of any age or ability-level.

I’m not sure that we teach storytelling, per se, as part of the music therapy curriculum, but perhaps we should. It is often the masterful account of how we choose, use and manipulate musical elements to get these “amazing” results that catches the eye of a potential funding source, employer or legislator. We are constant advocates for our clients or patients and our profession with every story that we share.

To that end, I’d like to share a story with you about the power of telling the “right” story, to the “right” group of individuals in just the “right” manner.

The Phone Call From Oklahoma

In late September 2008, I received a phone call from a member of the Oklahoma State Task Force. It was a Wednesday afternoon of a very busy week that seemed as though it ought to be Friday. There was mild panic intermingled with genuine excitement on the other end of the line.

But first, a little background:

Through several interesting twists, one of the task force members was introduced to and befriended a former State Senator who was a huge advocate for children’s services in the state, particularly for young children with special needs. He happened to be visiting the new RISE school in Stillwater, Oklahoma on a day that Robbin Buford, a board-certified music therapist, was providing services to one of the groups there.

Over the course of their new friendship, the former Senator asked a number of questions about music therapy, what kinds of services were available to constituents in the state, what kind of training music therapists received and if there were schools and internships in Oklahoma. Former Senator Long was impressed by what he saw at the RISE school that he began coaching the Oklahoma State Task Force in what steps to take to
1. ensure that music therapy was recognized by the state and
2. that state job descriptions were updated to require the MT-BC credential and provide quality services to patients and clients in the state.

Now back to that phone call:

Ed Long had arranged for several lawmakers who were currently in office, as well as some agency directors, to come to the RISE school the following Monday morning. He wanted the guests to have the opportunity to see Robbin in action and to have some time to discuss music therapy and the implications for the state over lunch following her session.

Robbin was calling me to see if there was any way to have regional and/or national representatives from the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), and the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT)present at the meeting to help field questions and talk about other clinical areas where music therapists provide services. Needless to say, this was an opportunity that we just couldn’t miss! With the help of the other members of the task force and Judy Simpson, AMTA’s Director of Government Relations, we were able to pull together packets of materials and a brief presentation following Robbin’s session.

I left Lawrence, Kansas on Sunday evening to drive most of the way to Stillwater for the Monday morning meeting. We all arrived an hour before the session to set up materials and prepare ourselves to meet and greet as people arrived to observe the group of eight children in the early intervention classroom. There were four children in the group with various special needs, including Down syndrome and autism.

As our guests arrived most were congenial and found a place in the observation booth or at the classroom entrance to watch the session. One gentleman in particular came in, introduced himself, shook hands and maintained a closed body posture with his arms folded across his chest. He went to the observation point that was the farthest away from the group and stood in the background.

A Change in the Room

As the session began, you could see the increased interest in what was occurring during the music therapy session. Body tensions subsided, people moved to a closer location to get a better view of what was happening and they began to ask questions about what was going on in the session.

The children, as always, did a fantastic job attending and engaging in a variety of musical processes that worked on skills across all developmental domains. This was true throughout the session, all the way to the post-session clean up where several children sang while marching the materials down the hall to be put away. Our observers were all smiles and full of questions as we moved from the classroom space to the conference room.

*Stay tuned to learn what happened after the music therapy session, as well as tips for how YOU can be—and already are—an advocate.

Dr. Dena Register is the Regulatory Affairs Advisor for the Certification Board for Music Therapists, and an Associate Professor of Music Therapy at the University of Kansas. She can be reached at dregister@cbmt.org

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