What an amazing and inspirational day! Connie Tomaino, the music therapist that's worked with Dr. Oliver Sacks for 30 years, is a phenomenal resource! This woman helped develop the study of the neurological effects of music and she gladly shares her wealth of experience. I felt so energized and excited to begin working with Parkinson's patients! There are SO many ways music therapy and neurologic music therapy can help!
She wowed the training group as she explained the vital role music therapists play in the treatment of Parkinson's. The unfortunate thing is that there are only two music therapists at this training. This team training is a wonderful experience and I wish more people could benefit from the training itself and specifically Connie's expertise.
I'm meeting people from all over the country and across disciplines and taking the opportunity to educate them about music therapy. But you know, Connie made an excellent point today: the number of music therapists in this country has plateaued. When I started in the profession 8 years ago, there were approximately 5000 music therapists. Today, there are approximately 5000 music therapists. Connie mentioned that number has remained steady for years. She wonders if it has something to do with the struggle and lack of reimbursement. I think that's a very plausible reason, unfortunately. She commented to me that we should have 100,000 MTs in this country.
Being a music therapist is somewhat like being a Jedi.
In Episode 1, Qui Gon tells Anakin that being a Jedi is a hard life. We know that being a Jedi means a life of service. That's typical of music therapists as well.
Music therapists are not in it for the money...my MT prof in college said, "Music therapists are the happiest poor people in the world, because we love what we do, but we're not well paid for it."
Music therapists, like Jedi, must have some natural talent for what they do and be willing to constantly hone their existing skills while developing new ones. I tell people that being a music therapist takes a very unique set of skills. Pete Meyer, who led the guitar skills workshop I attended a few weeks ago, said that music therapists are always the best musicians.
We might not always be the best performers, but we're the best musicians.
That's just part of the equation though.
I know some wonderful musicians, most of them music teachers, who would not cut it as a music therapist. They certainly have the music skills, but they don't have the rest of the puzzle. One of my friends is a great musician and is completely uncomfortable with people expressing raw emotion. Sorry buddy! No MT career in your future!
It's not about just having music and rhythm skills, but about people skills and being emotionally intelligent enough to help people process their emotions while protecting and processing your own. It's about using music skillfully to achieve goals that have nothing to do with music.
The life of a music therapist, like the life of a Jedi, is often not an easy one. So many times we have to fight to get ourselves a job, then after we get it, we have to fight to keep it. Many states right now have MT task forces working at the state level to get music therapy recognized by the government. We continually battle to get our services reimbursed, recognized and valued by "official" entities. It's hard enough to stay afloat, let alone develop our skills to ever higher levels and work to advance the practice of our discipline. It's a hard life to be sure...but if I had to guess, I'd say 99.5% of us are lifers.
It's a hard life and yet one that inspires passion in each of us that do this vital work. The intrinsic rewards are beyond measure...
and we love it.
We were asked to tell other disciplines what we wish doctors knew about our profession...my first answer was "I'm not the Kum Bah Ya guy!"
Most people, even in my own hospital, think I'm there primarily to help people feel better. The psycho-social applications of music therapy are the most understood, most appreciated and yet is just a small fraction of what I can offer.
Take the part of our Parkinson's team here at ATTP: With our social worker I can help patients and families give voice to emotions that may be held back, voice to frustrations that otherwise might not be expressed. With our occupational therapist I can provide Patterned Sensory Enhancement to support range of motion exercises. With our speech therapist I can assist in teaching patients to project their voices. With our physical therapist I can facilitate Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation to improve how patients walk.
I have so much to offer our patients and my team! Maybe I should say "I'm more than just the Kum Bah Ya guy."
I learn more about my team every day and they learn more about me. I think we will become a wonderful resource for information and treatment of Parkinson's disease. What an amazing opportunity to be here at the beginning!
I should also note that I had dinner with the Speech faculty member and the Coordinator of the training. What an awesome exchange of ideas and information! Plus, it sounds like I'll get a quick lesson to improve the resonance of my voice tomorrow!
As I am so fond of saying to another OT friend of mine, "It's not easy being us, but it's oh, so good!"
A final note...an amazing quote came from a panel member today who's had Parkinson's for 30 years. He was speaking of the uncontrollable movements that he deals with on a daily basis. In regards to the shaking he said, "Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don't, but it's all me."