Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist

I just read a Facebook post from a fellow music therapist who expressed a lot of frustration about how tough it is to make it as a music therapist these days. She asked for some words of encouragement, some small bit of hope in these times that can feel increasingly desperate. I began writing a response and it developed into something quite lengthy, as I have a tendency to do.

When I hit "Post" to upload the response to Facebook, it failed...several times. Maybe it was just too damn long.

At any rate, I will post my response here and link back to the original post. Maybe this will give others of you out there an idea of challenges a lot of music therapists face.

Since 2011, I have been unemployed almost 23 months. When I was employed, often I was over 1000 miles away from my family. I was married for two months before I took a teaching job 1200 miles away. Yes, I am a teacher too...so the jobs that took me away weren't even MT jobs. Finally, in April, I started my first MT job since 2011...and I am still a four hour drive away from my wife and children...including our three month old son. Wonder why there's been almost zero growth in this profession in the past fifteen years? It can be a tough gig. Since I graduated in 2003, out of eight of us in the program, right now I think one other person besides me is doing MT. Often,we have to fight tooth and nail for scraps...scraps! Piecing together a living of a part time gig, or full time gig that doesn't pay a living wage, teaching music lessons, maybe playing with a local symphony...all that, and sometimes we don't break even. Buying our own equipment...I go back to my favorite examples...is a surgeon expected to bring their own scalpel? Is the OT supplying the set of Graston tools? Ludicrous! Yet we put ourselves out there to schools, facilities, organizations that are interested in music therapy and in effect we say, "Sure, no problem! I'll provide the expertise and all of the equipment and materials, you pay me peanuts, then argue about whether you'll even salt them or not, and we'll get along just fine!"

This is a problem.

I interviewed for a position, in one of the most expensive cities to live in here in the States, and this facility said that considering I have a masters degree and over ten years experience, the could offer me $31,000 a year...that's not even a livable wage in the Midwest where I grew up!

Somewhere along the way we, as music therapists, have taught the world it is okay to treat us this way. We accept the bones we get thrown, because we have the passion for the work, and even if I can't sustain a living, really, at least I am living my passion!

I think it has something to do with how music therapy came into existence. Around 70 years ago, a few people brought into consciousness the idea of using music to help people get better. From this divine inspiration, a few of them began to mold and shape the foundations of our profession. They created something out of nothing! They figured out they needed academic training, standards of educating future therapists, research to show the validity of the work.

Somewhere along the path of this amazing process that birthed music therapy, we settled for the idea that we are using the musical gifts we have to help people...gifts. Now, that concept seems deeply rooted in the collective consciousness, and we struggle to advocate for our own life needs financially.

Talking with a group of MT's and the subject of masters level entry came up. A very insightful MT said, "you can talk about masters level entry all you want, but the first thing that needs to be done before we address that is as a profession, we need to fix the pay scale."

I'm working in a very large health care system now. Lots of therapists of all sorts being hired all the time. A physical therapist starts out making two to three times what I'm making, as a point of reference.

So here's the deal...at some point you will have to decide if you're a lifer or not. Sometimes I am still surprised at how people move on to other professions from MT. I just found out today that a MT who did a lot of work in relaxation techniques and worked in MT for many years is now a reverse mortgage expert. I guess at least now she could afford a mortgage...

Me? I'm a lifer. I've got so many research ideas...more than I can accomplish in this lifetime. I'm one of those people Steve Jobs talked about...a dreamer, just crazy enough to think I can change the world.

I will say from my own experience, that any time I have NOT been working as a music therapist have felt very empty to me. Right now I am blessed to be able to help people every day, doing something I a desperately passionate about. Can't put a price tag on that.

But, we live in the real world. There are basic life needs to be met, families to help support...

I'm afraid I have no clear answers to offer. I've been blessed that I have a supportive family and that I've never felt so beaten down by circumstances that I've decided pursuing this career isn't worth it anymore, even though I've come close a few times.

Hang in there and good luck in getting things to work out for you. If you decide you're a lifer and you can tough out the bumpy patches along the path, I think we'll all benefit. I know without a doubt that this world needs more good music therapists...even if the rest if the world doesn't know it yet.