An Introduction to Music Therapy Advocacy

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Webster's defines advocacy as - “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal : the act or process of advocating something.”

When I started studying my career in school and as I entered the workforce, I don’t think I fully understood what it meant to advocate for my music therapy. Mainly, I’m not sure I knew how many aspects of it would need advocacy.

I entered a young profession that is only officially 6 or so decades old. Which means that there is still a large population of people who have never heard its name, music therapy.

Inherently, music therapy can conjure images of circle singing and hand holding and maybe even a peace sign or two. Rather than the accurate alternative of therapists in scrubs or professional attire who have a guitar and several alternative pitched and unpitched musical items to address non-musical goals with patients from the NICU to hospice and everywhere in-between. The first thought about music therapy is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome, to be heard speaking scientifically about musical qualities when an assumption keeps you from being heard as a licensed and certified allied health profession. And fun fact: contrary to popular belief, I have never sung kum-by-yah in any of my sessions.

So as the first obstacle is the name, the second comes from the true motivations behind using music as the modality to address a patient's goals. While there are several ways to use music therapeutically to address emotions and psychiatry, the list doesn’t even come close to stopping there. My day in and day out focuses more on the regulation, sensory, motor, and cognitive skills of my patients. I work mainly with populations that have neurologic dysfunction and due to music having such great ability to access the brain and an to simultaneously engage many aspects of functioning, you allow the plasticity of the brain to have optimal opportunities to reroute through damaged areas. Whether you’re addressing gait, fine motor skills, visual tracking, cognitive concepts, or awareness of body you are able to exercise the brain using music to support its most efficient means to recovery.

The last, and to me the most difficult, piece of advocacy comes in the form of advocating for my clients. As I mentioned, my populations mainly fall in the neurological category which can include autism, TBI, parkinson’s, degenerative neurologic disease such as alzheimer's, and more. There is new research everyday that challenges traditional understandings of these diseases and dramatically change treatment. The more you learn about how to treat these varying diseases, the more you learn about the abilities often overlooked due to the outside picture gathered from a simple glance. As you get to know your patients, you learn about their rich lives, their hopes and dreams, and the people that love them. You gain a window into their everyday lives and you not only want to make their lives better using your medium, but you want the world to know who they are. This simple article is more than introduction to music therapy advocacy, but an awareness to what is possible when you believe in what you do, and the people you get to do it with.