Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day 4 - Considering Private Practice?

I've just finished my taxes for another year - Argh! After a late-night trip to the post office to beat the 12 PM deadline, I've got a little time to sit back, check Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr (Can you say information junkie!). My mind is full of deductions, expenses, and income statements and my living room is full of piles of paper (LoL). With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on running a private practice or being self-employed.

When I began my first music therapy job, I didn't have a choice - it was private practice/contract or nothing. Thus began my journey into the world of self-employment and I haven't looked back since. Many people cite the ability to "be your own boss" as a benefit of private practice. What they don't say is - you also need to be the accountant, public relations person, and secretary! I also don't remember a course about "How to run a business" during my training (They should definitely include a "Business 101" course as part of the overall degree requirements).

Being the accountant means that you have to keep track of things like cancelled sessions, damgaged instruments, gas and meal receipts AND come up with a system to invoice and record expenses properly*. Another, less enjoyable, part of being the accountant is following up on deliquent or overdue accounts. Being in private practice means that you can never be sure when you will receive payment for the invoice(s) that you submitted last month. If you have a "need to know" exactly when money is to come in, don't choose private practice. (I've had some invoices that took three months to be processed). And please, if someone has a foolproof way of getting invoices paid on time - PLEASE let me know!

- find out what tax categories you will be needing and set up your annual spreadsheet accordingly - it will definitely save you a lot of time come tax preparation!! A

Being the person in charge of public relations means that you have to develop your advertising plan/brochure, arrange for pictures (remember what I said in my previous post: no pictures = no interest), and the newer responsibility of ensuring that consents and releases are obtained before you put anything in said brochure or newspaper article! In this position it pays to be an OPTIMIST. You are probably going to have quite a few "no's" before that one "maybe" or one "I think about it". It also helps if you are an "extrovert" rather than an "introvert" (coming from someone who was very shy and had difficulty expressing himself in public). I still get nervous when speaking in front of a large crowd but a measure of comfort can definitely be learned.

Finally, being the secretary means that you get any other job not covered in the previous two roles. Some examples include: writing progress reports and/or letters to funding agencies, answering calls from anxious parents, and, of course, cleaning the bathroom!

Have I made it sound like I hate being in private practice? There are certainly days when I long for a full-time position in a nursing home (my specialty is geriatric clients) and I am an employee, not a contract worker. Overall, however, I do enjoy the freedom, responsibility and challenges that come with being in private practice.

What is your opinion?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 3 - The "When" of Music Therapy

Have you ever "Googled" yourself? Are you part of the "Y" generation, the "X" generation, or simply the "old school" generation? In my last post I described the difficulties of answering the question, So what is music therapy?. In today's post, I am going to tackle the "when" of music therapy. By this I mean, When is it appropriate to define or try to describe music therapy and when is it not appropriate?

Initially, after I obtained my Master's degree in Music Therapy, I realized that the public had very little awareness of music therapy and what the role of a music therapist was. I was anticipating, therefore, that I would have to spend a lot of time educating potential employers, the families and friends of clients and even my own family about the question, What is music therapy? Thus, my first response to the question of When is it appropriate to discuss music therapy? was, quite simply, whenever and wherever I needed to!

Today, some fourteen years later, I realize that there is a time and a place to discuss music therapy, and the role of a music therapist.

The "KISS" (Keep It Simple Stupid) method.

This works well when you are on the elevator and a person on the elevator says something like, "So you are going to entertain the residents are you?". You don't have much time to respond if you are only going up a floor or two. I usually respond, "Actually, I am on my way to work with several individuals, using music as a form of therapy" By the time I have completed my statement it is usually time to leave the elevator and the dialogue is finished. I would like to think that I have peaked their curiosity in learning more about music therapy but I doubt that is often the case.

The "Educational Display" method.

During National Music Therapy week, or during conferences on topics related to music therapy (such as autism and aging), I have often used those three sided sheets of pressboard to inform people about music therapy and the services that I offer. The key to this type of display, I have found, is pictures.
No pictures = No traffic
(past your display).

Even with a few pictures, I find that the public is seldom interested in taking more time than is necessary to give the display a cursory glance.

The "Talking to the media" method.

My experiences with the media have been both good and bad. Quite often, the reporters or interviewer come with their own, preconcieved ideas about the role of music therapy. This can shape their questions in ways that you do not expect, or create misconceptions that you need to correct. While you have slightly more control when dealing with text-based material vs a video segment, content is often sparse and brief. The media is looking for the very short "sound bite" or "quotable" text, not a long-winded correction of something that they have misconstrued or presented incorrectly. Production deadlines are often tight as well, adding to the pressure. (I remember one video segment where the news reporter wanted to videotape me working with a client. The session was held about 2:00 pm, the deadline for having the segment included in the nightly newcast was 3:30 pm, and they had to drive across the city to edit and produce the final clip. There was no time for retakes, long explanations or unexpected interruptions!)

Having said this, there is a positive side to dealing with the media. First, I have found that the public generally responds more intuitively, and remains interested for a longer period of time, if they are watching an audiovisual presentation. We seldom have time, or opportunity, to videotape ourselves in our clinical work. Thus, having something short and brief to show at a presentation or show to a potential employer, that looks professionally done, is definitely an asset. In the United States, they have PSA's (Public Service Announcements) by famous musicians/musical groups and medical professionals that have assisted in generating awareness about music therapy. The key here is, looking and sounding professional. Take some time with a colleague, friend, or family member and practice your "sound bites" and "short answers".

As an aside, wouldn't it be great if we could have a "media" booth, as part of our exhibition space at conferences? I'm not talking about a simple videocamera and microphone. I'm talking about a professional looking space, that is somewhat isolated from the noise and business of the conference, where the specifically invited media could sit down with a few chosen guests and talk about music therapy. Alternatively, the production and distribution of a podcast(s) is becoming increasing frequent. Wouldn't it be great to create a podcast of the keynote addresses at a conference, and then release them through iTunes or another similar podcast listing service using a Creative Commons licence? This has already begun in part through the efforts of a music therapist named Janice Harris MT-BC who has a weekly podcast entitled, The Use of Music in Establishing Peace and Wellness. Similarly, the 2006 Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT) annual conference held in Windsor, ON (across the river from Detroit, MI) produced podcasts of the three keynote addresses. They can be obtained by visiting the following link - 2006 Keynote addresses (3)

The "Social Networking" method

This is the newest, and perhaps, most effective method for getting the word out about music therapy. The term social networking employs internet-based applications such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, RSS feeds, etc. to share ideas and thoughts with other like-minded persons. Several music therapists, including myself, have begun to embrace these technologies in meaningful ways (I'll be doing a separate post about useful music therapy blogs). Some examples include: The Music Therapy Maven and the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Blog.

Major music therapy association are using and establishing a presence on Facebook. These allow the associations to interact and present a more "public face". Websites have become "passé" as the younger generations embrace these technologies. Some noteworthy examples are: the American Music Therapy Association and the World Federation of Music Therapy (You can find and join these "groups" or "associations" by clicking on Facebook and doing a "groups" search).

Using these technologies is not without risk. The presence of malicious individuals "attacking" and altering content on electronic, Internet networks and websites is increasing significantly. Secondly, is the whole notion of individual privacy and your "online profile". Many younger adults and teens who are "tweeting" their every move do not realize that what they say now may have a profound impact on their future. An recent article published in USAToday stated that, "Only 15% [of university admissions counselors] last year said they did not use social media, down from 39% the previous year." (Marklein, M. B., 2009, April 28).

It is also not without potential benefit. The notion of a Personal Learning Network (PLN), where individuals cultivate personal and professional relationships amongst a group of colleagues, independent of their current geographic location, is being increasingly discussed in relation to online and distance education. Secondly, the notion of Open Courseware and Open Content is causing educators to dramatically reconsider their relationship with students and the role that "control of knowledge" plays in limiting the dissemination of research and understanding of a topic (Caswell, Henson, Jenson, & Wiley, 2008).

In conclusion, there are a number of answers, and questions, related to the notion of When is it okay to discuss or define music therapy? Do you have a different answer?


Caswell, T., Henson, S., Jensen, M., & Wiley, D. (2008). Open educational resources: Enabling universal education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(1): 1-11. Retrieved from, on April 25, 2009.

Marklein, M. B. (2009, April 29). College recruiters are Twittering too. New York: USA Today. Retrieved from,
twitter_N.htm on April 29, 2009.

Please feel free to comment on, or repost this blog entry with proper attribution.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 2 - Defining music therapy

According to the Facebook site, "Top Ten Things That Music Therapists Love to Hear", the number one answer is, What is music therapy? This is meant sarcastically and not factually. It begs the question, however, of what, when and how is it necessary to define ourselves.

The what?

Bruscia (1998) devotes an entire monograph to the subject of defining music therapy. While there are many music therapy associations, each gives a different definition of music therapy. Davis, Thaut, & Gfeller (2008) clearly articulate that the definition of music therapy has undergone constant revision and evolution (p. 7-8). These are just a few of the difficulties that we, as music therapists, face when asked, "What is music therapy?".

The contextual approach

Music therapist work in a variety of clinical environments. These range from institutional to community based settings, educational to medical settings, individual and group therapy, using improvisational, recreative, and receptive methods. Clients can range in age from pre-term (during pregnancy) to age 100+. They can have physical, psychological, emotional, social, spiritual and medical issues independently or simultaneously. Thus, one approach to answering the question can be - to answer contextually.

For example, if I was answering a potential employer in a long-term care facility, I might answer in the following manner:

Music therapy is a form of therapy employing music and musical activities that encourages individual and group quality of life. Unlike entertainment, that seeks to simply entertain and encourages a passive response, I strive to engage my clients in music making, socialization, and physical activation. I also seek to provide opportunities for clients to develop former musical skills and/or develop new musical skills. My approach is based on scientific research and metholodogy developed over the past 30 years in which music therapy has been an established profession.

Answering a parent of a child with special needs, I might answer this question in this way:

Using music and musical techniques, I will strive to engage your child in a multisensory experience. In part, my approach will be driven by research findings and my training however I will take most of my cues directly from your child and their reaction(s) to the interventions (positive and negative, verbal and non-verbal) that I provide to him/her. I encourage questions and set clear goals and objectives in order to demonstrate my effectiveness.

Finally, answering a group of medical professionals, I might answer in the following manner.

Music therapy is a profession built on a solid base of quantitative and qualitative research. It is multisensory, employing largely non-verbal and musical interventions. Clear goals and objectives are formulated after the music therapist completes an initial assessment, including the medical, social and musical history of the client(s). Validation of clinical outcomes is ongoing and improved quality of life is viewed as a significant aspect of treatment outcomes. Finally, music therapy can serve as an independent treatment or be part of a multidisciplinary approach to treatment.

The simplistic approach

Given the complexity of contextualizing the description of music therapy, another approach can be to simplify the description of music therapy. Davis, Thaut, & Gfeller (2008) describe such an approach in chapter one of their text entitled, Clinical practice in music therapy. They, it can be argued, cite three elements as essential to music therapy - music, therapist, and client. Remove one of these elements and you are left with something that is not music therapy. For example, if you remove the "therapist", you are left with "client and music" and thus, someone who is capable of listening, and making music. The purpose of doing so, however, is not therapeutic and results are likely to be short-term or short-lived (i.e. going to a concert featuring your favorite band or artist). Remove the "client" and you are left with "therapist and music" or a situation in which the therapist is making music for themselves, perhaps for enjoyment purposes. Finally, remove the "music" and you are left with "therapist and client" in a verbal environment.

The "leave it up to public awareness" approach

Music therapy is a relatively new professional discipline, when compared to fields such as law/criminal defense, medical, or education. In the United States, the first music therapy association was formed in June 1950 (Davis, Thaut, & Gfeller, 2008, pg. 33). The Canadian Association for Music (CAMT) was formed in 1974. While the public thinks rightly, or incorrectly, that they understand what it means to be a "doctor", a "lawyer" or "teacher", they do not have the same understanding of what it means to be a "music therapist". Context can again come into play as an individual may answer from the viewpoint of being the parent or friend of a client, being a client themselves, or having no experience with music therapy and choosing to respond or give an answer.

Further complicating is the issue of "title protection". At present, there is no protection for the title of "music therapist" (at least in Canada). Thus, anyone can call themselves a "music therapist" without there being any assurance of their work experience or educational background. This means that public are given various examples of "what it means to be a music therapist" and "how music therapists work" without regulation or accountability to any professional body. In Canada, one can guarantee that a person is a music therapist by ensuring that they use the initials, MTA after their name. This is a credential referring to Music Therapist Accredited that is granted to individuals after they have completed their music therapy training, internship, and have had their work reviewed by a group of music therapy peers. In other countries, check for a professional association of music therapy and inquire of them what, and how, they certify individuals are music therapists.

Finally, there is the media or public organizations who often distort the terms "music therapist" and "music therapy". Frequent are news reports of individuals using music "as their therapy". But is this - "music therapy"? Similarly, if music has brought about a change in an individual, whether long term or short term, the word "therapy" is often applied. Public organizations or individuals can also report to provide recordings of music that are "therapeutic" or "soothing" and/or employ "music therapy techniques". The Mozart effect is one such highly public, and publicized, example. Another is "harp therapy". I am not saying that there are not therapeutic elements or benefits from such music or musical techniques, simply that it confuses the public with regards to the question of "What is music therapy?".

Clearly, there is no easy answer to the question - What is music therapy? Is it any wonder that music therapists shudder slightly when they are asked to explain what they do?

Bruscia, K. E. (1998). Defining music therapy. 2nd ed. Nilsum, NH: Barcelona Press.

Davis, W. B., Gfeller, K. E. and Thaut, M. H. (2008). An introduction to music therapy:
Theory and practice
. 3rd ed. Silver Spring, MD: American Music Therapy Association.

Tommorrow...."When" do you explain about music therapy.

Day 1 - Introductions and information

Introductions and information
by John Lawrence MMT, MTA

Welcome to the MusicTherapy365 blog.

If you are visiting the blog for the first time, this is a good place to start. If you are a return visitor, thank-you!

Over the course of the next year, I intend to share with you a journey into the profession of music therapy. This means that I will be sharing personal and professional insights, resources, and tools that you may use to improve your clinical skills, education concerning music therapy, and/or find resources that may be helpful for your own child/parent/friend with a disability or health condition.

So who am I that I presume to have knowledge worthy of dissemination to a wider audience? Professionally, I am a music therapist and educator. Personally, I am a father, a brother, an uncle, a cousin. I have been working as a music therapist for the past 15 years, and provide an Introduction to Music Therapy course at Concordia University College. I also have a strong interest in developing and researching various online tools that can assist me in helping my clients engage in new and deeper ways, and my students to learn. Finally, I love to research and build upon my knowledge of the practice and understanding of music therapy. Those are some of the reasons that I want to undertake this blog and share my insights with you!

Final comments...

This blog is intended to be a daily source of information, similar to photographic projects which undertake to provide a new picture, each day for a year. I promise to provide you with substantive blog entries, not just a brief "here's the resource, do with it what you like" post. Return often and please feel free to comment, share your own insights, and criticize me (I think I can take it!)

John Lawrence MMT, MTA