Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Music Therapy and Advocacy, part 2

Welcome back!
Part 2 continues with the story of what happened with music therapy in Oklahoma. Missed Part 1? Read it here.

Sharing Your Story, Making a Change (Part 2)

Dena Register, Ph.D., MT-BC

The Powerful After-Effect

As influential as seeing a live session was, the interactions that followed are what I will never forget.

The Director of the RISE school arranged for the physical therapist (PT), the occupational therapist (OT) and two parents to come to the meeting and share their experiences. Both the PT and the OT indicated that having music therapy services available at the school made their job easier AND more effective. Children didn’t need to be pulled out of the group as often because Robbin was able to use music to support the goals that the PT and OT were working on and the children could “work” in the context of the large group.

However, the most powerful moment of the day came from a mother of one of the children with autism. She shared her experience at a number of different early childhood programs where her child was provided the requisite services, including a paraprofessional, according to the law. She said that while these services met the requirements there were no laws stating that those individuals had to work to see the best in her child or to try and maximize his potential and help him thrive in a least restrictive environment.

She ended by saying, “When Robbin comes in to provide music therapy we all see responses and possibilities in him that we don’t see at any other time. It is a chance to see my child look like every other child.”

The room was silent. I still tear up when I share this story.

This was followed by the Director of Developmental Disabilities Services for the state asking a very pointed question, ”Where can we send other legislators to observe these kinds of services?”

Robbin smiled sweetly and said, “Right here.”

His reply: “I understand but what OTHER locations in the state offer this kind of service?”

And again she replied, “Right here.”

There were at least three jaws that dropped with that realization. In essence, only 18-20 young children in the whole state of Oklahoma were receiving these services on a regular basis.

This advocacy meeting was a “win”.

Oklahoma’s Music Therapy Practice Act Bill

Things began to move rapidly in the days, weeks, and months that followed this meeting. The task force has been summoned to present to various lawmakers and agency heads. They’ve invited parents and clients to testify about the effects of music therapy, conducted a self-study to explore support for music therapy services in the state and submitted legislation to allow licensure for board-certified music therapists.

If you asked any of the ladies who signed up to join the task force, I’m quite certain none would have said that they 1) always dreamed of doing this kind of advocacy work and 2) that they considered themselves proficient at it.

However, the bill they have helped to champion made it quickly and easily through the Senate last year and into a House committee before getting stalled behind budget negotiations. The bill will be pre-filed again this year and, if all goes well, will move through both the House and the Senate before arriving on the Governor’s desk for passage into law.

Advocacy and YOU

We have all learned so much about our profession and our capabilities through this process. One of the most striking things about this journey and how far this group has come is that there are less than 40 music therapists working in the state of Oklahoma! What an incredible illustration of the impact a few people can have AND the impact of music therapy on the lives of those we serve.

As you enter 2011, what kind of impact will YOU make? What contribution do YOU have to share? I’ll leave you with these few things to think about:
• Advocacy is for anyone. Advocacy happens everywhere, any day of the week, any time you are engaging in a professional capacity. You can advocate at every level (e.g. from grassroots to state governors to national legislators). Any opportunity, any conversation is a way to advocate for the profession. Advocacy also happens within out profession--as when you talk to a person trained in music therapy about board certification. And the skills are familiar to you because you already do this in other ways--you advocate for your clients, your employment, and your pay.
• Advocacy is a language. You need to know your audience and tailor your advocacy skills for that audience. It's just like tailoring your clinical skills for different clinical populations. And experience is the best teacher--having your audience experience music therapy first hand is very powerful.
• You are powerful. When you choose to support your self and your profession by maintaining your membership in AMTA and renewing your board-certification you are contributing to a more powerful you AND a more powerful professional presence. When you send a letter or an e-mail or make a phone call to a legislator you are using your power to participate in what is happening in your state.

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

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