A few years ago, we wrote a blog on 31 Ways to Be a Bad Music Therapist. It was full of humor, irony, and sure-fire tips to make you a bad music therapist. It got me thinking, though, What makes a good music therapist?
Seriously, what does it take to be a good music therapist? What skills, thought patterns, abilities, or approaches make us good music therapists? Below are some things I've put together from my own musings, combined with input from my co-workers, some signs that you're doing good work as a music therapist.
You balance and join musical creativity with research-based techniques.
What I mean is this: It is easy to get so caught up in the research-based techniques that we use that forget to keep being creative with their clients. There needs to be a balance. If you try something and it doesn't work, get creative and try something else. Our clients don't fit into boxes, so we shouldn't make them.
You find that you're often asking yourself, "What does my client need?"
I wish I could put a thousand asterisks next to this one. It is imperative for us as Music Therapists to constantly be aware of what our clients need. Let's say you work with children with special needs, your goal may be to increase social skills, but when they come into session, they are sensory-seeking and dysregulated and need some kind of sensory input. What do they need most in that exact moment? Another example: You work in a hospital. You are referred to a client for decreasing pain perception, but when you walk into the treatment room and begin to talk to them, you discover that they are crying because they feel hopeless and isolated. What are you going to do? Good music therapists ask themselves, "What does this client need?"
You are consistently looking for new things to learn to expand your knowledge base.
Look, I'm not going to tell you that I sit around in my spare time and read the latest music therapy journal so that I'm all caught up on research. I do, however, try to take the time to research different techniques that could work when my "old stand-bys" aren't cutting it with my clients. I do search music therapy blogs, go to conferences, and google the heck out of whatever I can when I'm stuck with a client or when I need to find something new.
You plan interventions that take into consideration your clients' personal interests and abilities.
Because, of course, we meet our clients where they are and want them to be engaged with us and what we are doing with them! If you find yourself taking that into mind more often than not, you're on the right track!
Your clients feel empowered and successful as a result of your work with them.
Good music therapists know how to not only motivate and encourage their clients, but also empower them to be the best possibly version of themselves. It's a subtle difference that has lasting effects. When we empower versus merely motivating, we support our clients to achieve a higher level of independent and interdependent skills. Empowerment fosters critical thinking, exploration, and emotional depth.
Now this list is by no means exhaustive. I'm sure there are many more things that make a music therapist a good one. This is just a start. Whether you're on a roll or feeling burned out as an MT, I hope you find these "signs" helpful. We want to hear from YOU, though! Feel free to leave a comment below with what you think it takes to be a good music therapist.