Follow Up: Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist

I wanted to write a quick follow up to Response to a Disheartened Music Therapist. People are talking about it.

The original post struck a nerve with a lot of music therapists. I think that post expressed what is on the mind of a lot of us...is this worth it? Can I make this work as a living? Is it supposed to be this difficult?

Some of the comments I've received illustrate just how resilient the "lifers" in this profession are. One person talked about being a lone music therapist in a rural area, and the obstacles she's had to get where she is today. She's made some enemies because of the high standards of service she was unwilling to compromise on. Networking,education, hard work...rinse, repeat. She's looking to the future, hiring people to continue the work she's been doing so it doesn't all just fade away when she's ready to retire. But she wonders, how she will convince someone to "sweat and suffer" (her words) for a couple of years in order to keep things going.

I wonder too.

This fast paced world, full of instant gratification does not seem well suited to the kind of patience and persistence it takes to develop a life as a private practice music therapist. My MT prof used to say "Music therapists are the happiest poor people on the world, because we love what we do, but we are not well paid for it."

Many other life paths offer a lot more money in lot less time.

I think, as do others, that the old paradigm needs to change...but that is a discussion for another time.

Advice another commenter had was to find another discipline that can complement music therapy skills and develop that quickly. It's not uncommon these days for MT's to pick up credentials for counseling, transpersonal psychology, social work...the list goes on.

This MT found it works better for her to not emphasize the music aspect of the therapeutic work that she does. Let's face it...many people hear "music therapy" and expect to sit around a campfire with a bunch of hippies, holding hands and singing Kum Ba Yah.

Just last week when I introduced myself to a group as a music therapist, one patient said, "Oh, I'm not here to be entertained."

Without pause I said, "Good. I'm not here to entertain you."

I am discovering that music therapy is much easier to understand in an experiential vein than in a philosophical one. If I try to explain a drum circle or song lyric analysis before we try it, eyes glaze over and attention wanders.

If instead I say, "we're going to play some drums...you already know what you need to know to do it" and then start playing, I start to see the smiles and hear the laughter. Later, I might explain how a group listened to each other and supported each other in a process, but the group already knows this on some level.

This is not an easy life, but it is a good life.

Music therapists get very excited over seemingly small things. I still delight in the memory of somebody I worked with who, after working with them for over a year, one day in session, they spontaneously said my name. Before that, I was always referred to as "music." These things are very exciting for us! Those breakthrough moments that remind us of why we (sometimes) sweat and suffer.

It is a hard sell..."come join our profession! You'll probably never make much money, you'll always have to justify everything you do, you'll constantly have to educate others, you may forever be underpaid, undervalued and underappreciated...but if this is in your soul...you'll never find happiness anywhere else."

All the hard work and frustration and tears (mostly with our clients) and challenges...the gut wrenching, joyful, emotional roller coaster...is it worth it?

It's certainly not a way of life for everyone.

But, yeah. It's worth it.