Personal Development as a Student Music Therapist

Music Therapy as a Profession

To me, music therapy is a profession dedicated to enhancing the mental, emotional, and physical health of participants through the use of musical interventions. Such interventions may include (but are not limited to) lyric discussion, active music listening (giving the client the option to choose a desired form of music to listen to), neurologic music therapy applications (addressing rehabilitation and maintenance of functional behaviors), guided imagery, and music-assisted relaxation. Interventions for clients are carefully chosen to suit their needs, which is why another important aspect of music therapy is the development of therapeutic rapport between a therapist and client. Through the building of trust and secure attachment, the therapist is given the ability to develop an understanding of their client’s goals, strengths, and weaknesses. As an aspiring student music therapist, my philosophy is that music as therapy is the use of creative methods to make medical and psychotherapeutic experiences more personal and enjoyable for the client, as well as actively affecting the wiring of the nervous system.

Critical Skills for Music Therapists

Musically, every music therapist should develop effective transposition, theoretical, sight reading, and aural skills in order to serve their client effectively. While working in the field, there will be many experiences when a client may want to use a song that the therapist has not previously heard or learned the chords for. However, to maintain professionalism, it is important to communicate to the client that they have a choice in the musical selections used, and that they do not need to worry about the therapist’s ability to perform. Rather, music therapists are by definition professional musicians, and therefore must develop advanced musicianship techniques. If a song that a client wants to hear/play is in a key difficult for the therapist or client to sing/perform, then the therapist must take it upon themselves to transpose on sight, memorizing the key signatures and chord progressions. A music therapist must also use musical elements to communicate transitions, emotions, and key phrases in the music through the use of vocal dynamics (i.e. crescendo to communicate anticipation of the next verse, diminuendo to communicate a change in a story’s theme, etc.), tempo (i.e. accelerando to communicate emotions such as excitement and happiness, ritardando to transition to a song’s cadence, etc.), and instrumental patterns (e.g. the choice to strum or fingerpick on the guitar).

Non-musically, a music therapist must develop self-awareness. Not only must one be aware of their personal strengths and weaknesses, but they must maintain awareness of how their behaviors are reflected in their work. This means an awareness of the vocal dynamics they often speak at, and reflecting upon whether or not it may be too quiet or loud for their population. For example, a geriatric music therapist with a typically quiet voice may want to work towards speaking louder, in hopes of being heard by clients who may be dealing with hearing trouble. Similarly, a therapist with a consistently stoic facial expression may want to participate in improvisation classes or work towards expressing emotions more evidently, especially if they are working with young children who are still developing an understanding of the six basic human emotions.

Critical Traits for Music Therapists

Music therapists must be resilient. As a psychological, medical, educational, dramatic, and musical profession, music therapy is arguably one of the most difficult professions in the nation. As a student, one must complete three practicum experiences, an educational field experiences, a recreational music course, 180 pre-internship hours, the interview of a board-certified therapist, several psychology courses, and music courses on a primary and secondary instrument, all while participating in University ensembles and completing core university requirements. On the way to board-certification, many lose hold of that dream that initially led them to where they are, and they walk away from the profession. However, the dedicated music therapy student will find a way to succeed; they will face the obstacles with confidence and determination, knowing that their efforts will be worth it when they receive their certification and are licensed to work in the community. Furthermore, upon receiving certification, one must also understand when it is beneficial to take a break from working. As a music therapist, Compassion Fatigue is a common occurrence, especially when working in palliative and chronic illness care. However, in order to maintain personal health, it is important for a music therapist to understand the importance of self-care, and remember that although they may have the privilege to work in a career they love, they are still a person separate from their job.

Personal Skills, Strengths, and Weaknesses

Personally, I believe that my most well-developed skills and traits are my optimism and persistence. I am a firm believer in stressing progress rather than comparison when working with others; I want individuals to understand that they do not need to have any prior musical training to participate in therapeutic interventions. Rather, I want them to focus on where they are today, and how much they have grown over the course of treatment. Furthermore, I am persistent. Throughout my entire life, I have been recognized for my work ethic; whenever I have a goal, I put in all of my energy to achieve it. This means that no matter how difficult it becomes, I will find a way to help my client achieve their own goals, and I will make sure to show them that I will do whatever I can to ensure that all needs are met.

As a student music therapist, I believe that my main weakness is my performance anxiety. Anxiety was not a major hindrance to my musical performance originally; however, this past year, it has become a major stumbling block. Both musically and socially, I have found increased difficulty in making eye contact, communicating with peers and professors, initiating conversation, and performing in front of trained musicians. I am unsure if this is the result of an anxiety disorder (as I have avoided psychoanalytic therapy my entire life); however, I plan to begin attending counseling sessions to improve my interpersonal and musical skills to ensure that I am able to continue to pursue music therapy as a profession.

My Future in Music Therapy

While the field of music therapy is highly interesting to me, unfortunately it does not seem likely that I will be continuing in the major. Due to an unsuccessful audition, I will not be able to study here at Baldwin Wallace. Although I could hypothetically audition again in the Fall semester, I do not believe that I will be able to perform well under the pressure of presenting in front of professors whom have previously rejected me. On the contrary, in the event of a successful audition, paying for two extra years of liberal arts college is too difficult financially. Therefore, I am auditioning at Cleveland State University (where I would plan to double major Music Therapy and Education), Wright State University, and Wittenberg University to pursue a Bachelor of Music Education. After, I may consider Post-Baccalaureate studies in order to prepare to take the Board Examination.

Furthermore, I am switching to a Music Education major due to an increased interest in educating children with mild and moderate special needs. After completing a field experience in a fourth grade resource room, I have discovered that I am passionate about teaching young children who live with intellectual disabilities. I want to teach the students how to become musicians as well, rather than solely focusing on using music as an intervention. Therefore, I believe that I may be needed more in the field of education than I am in therapy.

Although I am not continuing in the study of music therapy for the time being, I believe that what I have learned in this course will benefit me greatly as a special needs music teacher someday, in the event that I do not become a music therapist. At any given time in a special education classroom, there will be children with multiple types of disabilities, ranging from Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, and other common exceptionalities. Therefore, learning how individuals living with these conditions will aide me in providing the highest quality education and care, showing them that no matter where their musical and non-musical abilities lie, they can always find peace and comfort in music-making. Anyone can learn how to make beautiful music, if only someone gives them the chance.

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