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.

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