The One Thing Music Therapists Must Stop Doing IMMEDIATELY!

There I was, enjoying the lunch buffet at a great Mediterranean place, when I saw it...another article claiming a music therapy program, and a music therapist posting the article, asking if local MT's could verify if a music therapist was running the program. Part of a comment I could read on the post said something like "Maybe if enough of us contact..."

This. Must. Stop.

Let me first say that the title of this post annoys me.

It's a teaser, meant to draw you in...raise your curiosity...get you hooked.

I dislike resorting to such tactics, but I need your complete and undivided attention.

Let me be crystal clear about this: policing non music therapists claiming to provide music therapy must stop right now. Not later...NOW!

Unless AMTA is going to trademark the term "music therapy", set up a huge legal division to destroy anyone who uses the trademark without proper credentialing, (which will never happen for multiple reasons)  then we need to stop policing the world.

Listen up people...each of us gets 86,400 seconds in any one 24 hour period. How do you want to spend yours? Whining about everyone who improperly uses the term "music therapy?" How about ignoring all of that stuff, giving it your all everyday and educating as you go?

Think about it! "Therapy" is a buzz word right now. People play with the word ALL THE TIME.

Wine therapy, retail therapy, drum therapy...

When was the last time you heard of a vintner going off on someone for saying "wine therapy?"

Does not happen.

Now here's the tender and compassionate part of this post: it's not your fault.

When I was a student music therapist, it was drilled into us:

"Learn to document everything extremely could be the difference between you keeping your job or losing it."

"You constantly have to justify what you do, because most people won't understand."

That along with the phrase "Music therapists are the happiest poor people in the world, because we love what we do, but we're not well paid."

Take a moment, and check in with yourself after reading those phrases.

How do you feel?

Insecure? Scared? Like there won't be enough pie for dessert?


I mean, I remember wanting to curl up with my blankie and some hot chocolate after hearing these things!

We learned to be crusaders for our beloved profession, and let's be clear that no one stays long in music therapy unless they love it. We learned to fight for truth, justice and music therapy provided by qualified music therapists who have completed an approved course of study and six month internship at an approved...

Can we stop using that wordy explanation please? Eyes glaze over about three words into, and no one understands what we're talking about anyway. Keep it simple! "Yes, I had to go to school for this, no it's not new...established in 1950, yeah, it is a really cool job."

We see all of these people, well intentioned people, who I believe truly want to help others, kind of crowding our turf. Therapeutic musicians, healing musicians, volunteer musicians...they love music, and they want to help people, just like we do. We offer things they can't. It doesn't mean that there won't be pie for us.

If you feel like you have to fight for a position that ends up hiring one of these other music types, then it wasn't the position for you anyway. Trust the process. The general public is going to figure it out sooner or later, without us calling out every bozo saying they are doing music therapy. They're going to figure it!

So let me put it to you this way: all those sayings that we're familiar with, like, "what goes around, comes around" and "you get out of it what you put into it" and "your focus determines your reality"...

All of those phrases have something in common: the law of attraction.

Unless you've been off the grid since the 1980's, you've heard about the law of attraction. Abraham Hicks teaches about it all the time, the 2006 movie "The Secret" describes it...countless books, articles, blog posts, YouTube videos...

In simple terms, the law of attraction states that what we put out into the Universe, emotionally, and thus energetically, we draw to us. And in my experience, the Universe is like a small child...neither hears any form of the word "no." We've all seen a parent chasing a toddler saying "Don't run!"

What happens? The toddler runs FASTER!

Small children and the Universe can't comprehend "no."

When we are ever vigilant for those cretins who capitalize on our hard work and defile the name of our profession, what energy does that put out? When we live in fear that jobs might be taken away from us, we embrace an air of there's not going to be enough to go around.

What do we get from that? We have contracts renegotiated, undercutting anything resembling a livable wage, let alone something that allows us to thrive. What have hours cut, or we simply have positions cut.

How often do we say amongst ourselves and to others, "It seems like no one knows what music therapy is!"

What do we gain by that? More and more people seem to be surprised that such a thing exists!

MT is not THAT much younger than PT, OT and Speech, and everyone has at least a cursory knowledge of those professions. Okay, I still get a lot of questions about OT...

In "The Secret" someone mentions Mother Teresa's understanding of the law of attraction. She was quoted as saying, "I'm not interested in joining your anti-war protest, but if you ever have a peace rally, I'll be there."

This is a simple reframing of thoughts and emotions and yet quite powerful. Focusing on the "wanted" in life as opposed to the "unwanted."

Think about it: War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on we still have these things?

I'd say, in general, we're poorer, higher and more scared than ever!

Point being, we reap what we sow. If we keep sowing seeds of lack and scarcity and fear that I may not have my job next week if I don't justify my profession, then we will continue to draw those things we resist toward us.

Stop wasting time defending what we do. Instead, go do it!

Each and every one of you is responsible for this. Continue with confidence and courage. Let go of scarcity and fear. This profession has evolved beyond the days of music therapists being "happy poor people." Our profession is fluid and dynamic. Each of us is responsible for focusing on where we want our profession to go.

Look up Abraham Hicks, listen and learn. Stop's outside of our scope of practice anyway!

Let the charlatans do what they will. We remain, calm and confident in our chosen path, which is ever moving forward to greater things.

Do what you do, and do it extremely well.

That will be enough.

It Didn't Come for Free

I just watched this video of Ethan Hawke talking about depression in the creative arts. He speaks about the work of Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and River Phoenix. The phrase that Ethan says that really caught my attention is

It didn't come for free.

This phrase reminds me that as music therapists, we need to take care of ourselves. Another phrase I learned early in my career reminds us

If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else.

This rings true for anyone in a service profession. We choose this work because we want to help people. We can't do that if we're a mess on the inside. Eckhart Tolle says we need to take care of our inner space. We must pay attention to what is going on inside of us so things don't get out of control.

What we do as music therapists, it doesn't come for free. As I read once, "there is a price for greatness."

It doesn't come for free.

Take care of yourself, on every level.

The Stories We Tell and The Stories We Don't

Since my post "Everyone Has A Story" the concept of life stories has been at the forefront of my thoughts. I've been thinking about this part (the part I'm living through right now) of my story because, honestly, I have a lot of time to think right now. Before I go into my story in the present, I want to share how I became aware of the stories each of us have. A couple of years ago I started working as a music therapist at a rural hospital...25 beds. It was the first hospital gig I had, and I was the first staff music therapist they had. I had some ideas about what a hospital MT should do, but there was a lot of feeling my way through things on the beginning.

Within the first week or two, I figured something out that shaped the way I have lived as a healer and a music therapist ever since. It was at this time that I realized that yes, everyone has a story to tell but, most of the people I served were willing to tell me their story.

I have been told for years that I am easy to talk to. One of my co-workers told me I have "listening eyes." I found is person to be quite intelligent and quite insightful, so I trust her judgment.

Regardless, I soon figured out that music was the gateway for many of those patients to share their stories with me. A familiar song provided a sense of comfort, or perhaps triggered reminiscence. Often these people would discuss their concerns about their state of health, talk about the good old days going to dances with their spouse. Their children, grandchildren...the grandson who just shipped out to Iraq, the young mother who was on the cusp of spiritual enlightenment, but the reality of her unenlightened family and husband was overpowering...

People would share their very personal stories with me and I listened with respect and a caring ear. I offered insight when I could and commiserated at times. Sometimes I cried with them.

I realized the gift each of these people gave me, entrusting me with their stories. I also realized the responsibility that came with those gifts. Sometimes, those people just needed someone to hear them. They needed someone to listen. When I would try to explain this to others, they were often confused. I said, "Sometimes I would see a patient, sing one song, and we'd start talking. I would leave the room 45 minutes to an hour later, and it was a good music therapy session. One song, and it was a good session."

Now my music therapy friends will appreciate this idea. We try to meet the client where they are and take them where they need to go. Sometimes we make music for them. Sometimes we make music with them. Sometimes we cry with them or laugh with them and sometimes we just listen.

If you pay attention to people, they share parts of their stories all the time. There are people that always seem mad at the world, or happier than could be expected of even the most optimistic person. There are varying degrees in between, but I think the point is made. We have to realize that the stories people are willing to share with most of the world is only part of their story. Most of us walk around behind a facade, a mask. It's human nature...a defense mechanism, at least in the Western world. Let's face it, most of us would feel too vulnerable to put out there our real stories all the time. It would be open season on our emotional selves! Who needs that?

I have learned in my experience as a music therapist and healer that my openness can encourage others to be open too. Often that openness helps facilitate the healing process. Yet I keep parts of my story to myself.

This became evident to me at the chiropractor's office the other day.

When one of the ladies that works in the office was doing electro stim therapy on my neck, I shared with her that my wife and step daughter were going to visit me the following weekend and how much I was looking forward to it because it had been a month since I'd seen them.

One of the other girls who works in the office walked by and was teasing me in a good natured way about something that had happened soon after I started seeing this chiro. One day when I came in for an adjustment, this girl asked me if I wanted to do the stim therapy before the adjustment. I became slightly panicked, and stuttered a bit before saying no, I wanted to do the therapy after the adjustment. As it turned out, I was having an especially hard time dealing with feelings of loneliness and missing my family. That one small change to the routine seemed very upsetting.

The other day, this sassy blonde girl was teasing me about not liking change. She was doing so in a good natured way. Anyone who knows my wife, knows I like sassy. And she was just saying those things in fun, but today I decided to share part of my story I hadn't shared with the office staff. In mock exasperation I said, "You know, I've only been here a month and I've never lived anywhere but Iowa and I just got married for the second time in June and now I'm 1200 miles away from my wife and kids, so if sometimes I come in here and I'm a little neurotic, there's a reason for it."

I tired to keep my tone light even though my words weren't. I didn't want her to feel bad, but I felt it was important for her to understand where I was coming from. I'm careful who I tell this part of my story to and how I tell it. I don't want to be one of those people. You know the ones...the people who unpack their drama for anyone within earshot. It's a form of energy vampirism really. "Feel sorry for me so I can get your attention and thus your energy."

I don't want to be one of those.

Sometimes though, I feel it's important to let select people know that I am dealing with some personal challenges and that sometimes I might need some extra gentleness or just some understanding.

This seems to be the time for me to deal with some of these things in a very direct way.

Two different times this week I found myself in conversations where people were asking about my emotional adjustment to my job, my living situation and such.

The first was someone who will be mentoring me in my job. I admitted that around the second week I was here, I was talking to my wife, in tears. I said, "I don't want to be do this anymore. I miss you, I miss my kids. I want to come home."

I nearly broke into tears recounting that conversation.

My mentor's face grew sincere, intense. She asked me, "Can you do this?"

I assured her that even though I had tough days, that I could. I told her, "Besides, I'm a martial artist...I don't give up."

The second was my supervisor asking how I was settling in. He asked informed questions about if I had found a nice place to live and if I was developing a social network. Good questions to ask someone in my situation.

For every story that a person shares with someone else, there are many they keep to themselves. What would it be like if everyone wore their heart on their sleeves? I will guarantee you this: no matter how open and honest someone is, even if they say they are telling you their whole story, there are stories they keep to themselves. Sometimes they realize they are doing it and sometimes it is pure defense mechanism and the stories are buried deep. That's okay though...that's how a lot of us keep our sanity.

My friends, the stories you have collected in your own lives need to be given a voice. Not just the stories you share, but also the stories you don't share. That voice can still be safe, still remain protected. For me, my journal sees most of the stories I don't give voice to anywhere else. Even so, there are some things I keep to myself. But maybe, just maybe we can coax a small bit of one of those untold stories out to share with someone...even if it's only on paper.

You might be surprised though...sometimes the things that you think will shock and horrify people actually encourage them to be a little more open.

"Hey, I have to tell you, I'm kind of a freak."

"What a relief! So am I!"

Who knows?

But I've got a strong intuition that if, as a global culture, we could all share a little more of our inner selves, there would be a lot less conflict in the world. Maybe we could all relate to each other a little better.

More relating to each other and more understanding; yeah, I think that would be good.

Rant About Music Therapist Job Postings

Sometimes I just get really worked up at the complete and total lack of information potential employers have about music therapists and what we do. This (to be brutally honest) complete ignorance is most evident when employers list the requirements and preferences for their ideal candidate. In that last year, I've witnessed some heinous requirements sections of job postings including postings listing educational requirements as "degree in music therapy or related field." Guess what can't PROVIDE music therapy without a degree in music therapy! This one I found tonight...and maybe I'm just a bit cranky because it's after one in the morning and I need to go to bed, but this one has got to be one of the BEST examples of the ignorance potential employers have regarding our profession. I copied this directly from the job description:

  • Bachelor's degree in music therapy
  • Must be able to play an instrument
  • Must be certified by the American Music Therapy Association or achieve such status within one year of hire.
  • ACMT, CMT, or RMT a plus.
  • Must possess at least 1-2 years working with children of all age

Now, let's break this down:

Bachelor's degree in music therapy

Okay, this makes sense. They aren't necessarily looking for someone with a masters.

Must be able to play an instrument

Wait a they have any idea what goes into a music therapy degree? Even vocalists getting a music therapy degree have to demonstrate proficiency on guitar and every music therapist can play at least TWO instruments and more times than not, MANY instruments. I think this falls into the "goes without saying" category.

Must be certified by the American Music Therapy Association or achieve such status within one year of hire.

Absolutely EVERY music therapist working in the United States has just been excluded from this position. The American Music Therapy Association does not certify anyone. Our certifying body is an independent organization called the Certification Board for Music Therapists. So this potential employer has done enough research to know that AMTA exists, but not enough to understand that AMTA does not certify music therapists...CBMT does. By the time I read this, I was pretty frustrated at the lack of attention in writing these job requirements.

ACMT, CMT, or RMT a plus.

I nearly had a full blown hissy fit when I saw this. Apparently this organization prefers to hire music therapists that were certified prior to 1998. The credentials ACMT, CMT and RMT actually came from two different music therapy organizations that no longer exist. In 1998, the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) and the American Association for Music Therapy (AAMT) merged to form the American Association for Music Therapy (AMTA). At that time, the credentials ACMT, CMT and RMT were no longer awarded. The new credential Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) was introduced. Professionals who held the credentials from the original two music therapy organizations were invited to keep those credentials or start using the new MT-BC credential. For an employer to state that credentials that have not been available for over a decade are a plus...

Must possess at least 1-2 years working with children of all ages

Again, this part of the requirements makes sense and is not inflammatory.

Try this out...type "music therapy" into Google. What's the first website that pops up? Forget the ads...the first website listed is AMTA's website. This horrific blunder of a job position posting could have been remedied by a simple Google search and some copying and pasting. For some reason, the person posting this description didn't care to take the time to verify whether or not the posting even makes sense to professionals in the field. Does this reflect the lax attitude of some HR person somewhere? Maybe there's a broader implication here. As music therapists, from the moment we enter our undergrad programs, we are taught to advocate for ourselves and our profession. We learn to document everything we do in clear and concise terms so we can justify the wonders we work every day. Even those of us who are not in dual major programs as music therapists and music educators (or equivalency programs) are taught to be teachers. Teach others what it is that we do...teach them about the benefits we can provide for people.

Are we not doing a good enough job teaching the general public about what we do and the educational requirements we have to meet? Or should job description writers get with it and stop being lazy?

I'll be honest about something...I've been out of work for over a year. In a situation like that, a person can get pretty desperate when it comes to finding a job in a chosen field. For most music therapists, it's not just a's a passion.

Even with that...I'll say it, obsession, to find a music therapy job, when I see completely inane job descriptions like that, I have to wonder if it's even worth my time to apply...this employer CLEARLY will not fully appreciate the awesomeness I can bring to their organization if they can't even write a semi-intelligent job description. I posted a much shorter rant about this subject on Facebook several months was something to the effect of "Don't expect me to take seriously your desire to hire someone in my profession if you can't even write a position posting that makes sense."

I've spent a good amount of time this evening applying for jobs, but I'm not going to lose any more sleep by wasting my time applying with an organization so out of touch. I've got more important things to ranting in the middle of the night.