Updated: Aug 16, 2019
Whenever I meet someone new, I am always ready to answer the question: "So, what do you do?". When telling someone that I am a Certified Music Therapist, there are all sorts of interesting responses and follow of questions that come my way. My favourite type of response is when people tell me their personal stories about how music has been important and healing in their own lives or the lives of a loved one. More often than not, I get asked quite a few questions about music therapy, as it is something that not everyone has heard of before. Other times. it seems people have heard about music therapy, but may have a misunderstanding of what it truly is. For this reason, I thought I would share the 3 most common questions that I get asked upon sharing that I am a music therapist. The ultimate goal is to leave the conversation having made sure they can now accurately share what the practice of music therapy is with others, thus creating a better public understanding of our profession and who can benefit from services, one person at a time.
1) Wow! It must be so much fun to play music all day and make people happy, right?
Well, yes - I do love my profession and I feel very lucky that I get to make music on a daily basis. Music therapists play instruments and use their voice so much that they need to make sure they take proper care of themselves in order to avoid injury.
Often, music therapy sessions do make our clients happy! However, that is not always the goal. Music therapists assess our clients' needs and then create a treatment plan to address their specific goals. These goals can range from improving speech and communication skills, increasing instances of emotional expression, decreasing pain and discomfort in end-of-life care, improving social skills, improving attention to task, and much more.
2) What type of music do you use with your clients?
Well, the first thing to know is that in order to get into a University training program, applicants must have guitar, piano, and voice skills as these are common instruments used in sessions. Often, music therapists also come with a background in an additional instrument which they incorporate in sessions such as cello, percussion, or the clarinet. The type of music that music therapists use with their clients depends on our client's music preferences. Using client-preferred music is most often the most effective in helping them reach their goals. For example, in my work in dementia-care, I generally use music from the 30's - 60's as that is the what the patients recall and engage most with. It's important to know that we music in various ways including singing, instrument playing, improvising, listening, and songwriting. Depending on th clients goals, we would choose the appropriate interventions to use. For example, we may use improvisation with a non-verbal client who expresses through music-making, or we may use songwriting with a teenager who is working on exploring their emotions.
3) I'm going through a hard time, what should I listen to?
Using music therapeutically can be helpful if you are going through a difficult time. If you are looking to improve your mood, I would suggest thinking about meeting yourself where you are. In other words, putting on an upbeat/positive song may not do the trick if you are feeling down. Instead, start with a song that matches and validates your current emotions, and work your way up to the more positive songs - to gradually improve your mood. There are a few books I can recommend about how to use music intentionally in your daily life, if you are interested! Additionally, you can always look into working with a Certified Music Therapist. They would use music therapy interventions, as well as the therapeutic relationship to guide you in navigating this challenging period you are facing. In this case you would want to look for someone with the MTA credential. This means that they have competed a University program (either a Bachelor's or Master's degree), completed a 1000 hour supervised clinical internship, passed board examination, and have met all of the requirements according to the Canadian Association of Music Therapists.
You'll notice that in all three responses, I try to include important information about the practice of music therapy, even if it isn't directly asked. This includes, the training music therapists have, that we use a variety of interventions, that we conduct assessments and create treatment plans, and that the therapeutic relationship is an important component of our work.
It's always a pleasure sharing what music therapy is all about and seeing people's interest and enthusiasm about the great work we do!