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Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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The Space Between: CONNECTing Music Therapy & Music Ed

As I mentioned in last week’s post, this month is Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month.  What  I may not have mentioned last week was that not only are Music Therapists across the country participating in this project as bloggers, but hundreds of MT-BCs with Twitter accounts are spreading the word about our field there as well, under the hashtags #MTAdvocacy, #LoveMusicTherapy, and #FollowMTWeek.  The last tag is thanks to Ben Folds, the talented performing artist and all around amazing person I had the opportunity to meet at the 2011 American Music Therapy Association Conference.  He has been tagging to Music Therapy related blog posts and facts, even following every Music Therapist who would give him a shout-out on Twitter (including yours truly!)  Needless to say, this month is already shaping up to be a huge success!

In past years’ Advocacy posts, I set about to define Advocacy and what it has meant to me at various stages in my career.  In 2011 it was all about Legislative Recognition, and being part of making North Dakota the first EVER  State to have a Music Therapy License is an experience I’ll never forget.  In 2012, I took more of a look at what defines me as an Advocate, and how what I do as an MT-BC affects the advancement of my field and improving overall access to services by individuals across the across the country, which is our ultimate goal!  This year, I want to look more closely at the role collaboration plays in Music Therapy Advocacy, specifically the relationship between Music Therapy and Music Education.  As MT-BCs, we can spend so much of our time explaining to people how we are not Music Educators (i.e., that we don’t teach music, we use it as a tool for non-musical goals) that over time, we create this unintentional and seemingly uncrossable void between ourselves and a field that, particularly for myself as professional working in Special Education, we really need to be able to collaborate with.  And this can go both ways too: Music Educators who are not themselves educated on what Music Therapy is (or can be) can contribute to the void by attempting to conduct their own idea of “Music Therapy”, which can create issues of “territory” and scope of practice that end up with a resulting “you stay out of my sandbox, and I’ll stay out of yours” mentality.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Over the last year especially, I’ve found myself in situations where I really needed the insight of a music educator, and they really needed insight from me – the experience of working with the educators in my community to enhance the therapeutic goals I set for my clients every day has been one I hope that more of my colleagues in Music Therapy can get to enjoy at some point in their careers as well.  Here are some of the Do’s and Dont’s I’ve picked up as tools for effectively connecting with Music Educators:
1. DO communicate regularly with the Music Educators in your students’ lives. They may have themes they’re using in class that you could draw from, and you may have insights on how to manage difficult behaviors that they may never have heard before.
2. DON’T underestimate how busy Music Educators are.  With programs being cut across the country left and right, all of us who work in Music are feeling it, but Music Educators especially are stretched incredibly thin, and as a result may be difficult to reach or communicate with.  DON’T give up! DO be patient :-)
3. DO ask questions about how you can help, where the teacher’s comfort level is, etc., and respect any boundaries they may set.   I have some teachers who ask me to pop into their classroom from time to time, either to observe our shared students in class with them, or to meet with them personally outside of class. Some of the educators I work with ask that I not come into the classroom at all, and prefer to send me weekly “check-in” emails to let me know how my students are doing.  As an itinerant professional, I recognize that I am always in someone else’s space and not my own, so I always follow the educator’s lead and seek clarification where it is needed, though I will confess to a certain amount of prompting on my own part – sometimes educators may not know what you can do for them or how you can help, so asking questions like “What are your goals for this student?” or “What would you most like to see from this student in your class?” can help to open the gates to discussion how your expertise can be of use to the Music Educator (and vice versa!)
4. Lastly, DO keep yourself abreast of what’s going on in the world of Music Education however you can.  I enjoy perusing resources from Music K-8 whenever I have a spare moment (including this adorable song about fast and slow tempos put out by a Music k-8 project called Moobtoob – used it at the School for the Deaf just this week), and your state’s website will also include links to national and state standards for Music Education that can provide valuable insight into what educators around you might be trying to do for your students in those moments where they themselves may not be so easy to get ahold of.
So, in conclusion, successful collaboration between Music Educators and Music Therapists is the kind that is built on regular communication, mutual respect, patience, and the sharing of ideas.  I have found in my own practice that when I do this, my Braille Music students keep up better with their peers, and my students who are Deaf are able to experience more than if their Music Teacher and I had never talked at all.  It is through building these types of meaningful connections that Music Therapy, and ultimately the clients we serve, can thrive!

 Advocacy –> Recognition –> Access

Since 2005, the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists have collaborated on a State Recognition Operational Plan. The primary
purpose of this plan is to get music therapy and our MT-BC credential recognized
by individual states so that citizens can more easily access our services. The
AMTA Government Relations staff and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff provide
guidance and technical support to state task forces throughout the country as
they work towards state recognition. To date, their work has resulted in over 35
active state task forces, 2 licensure bills passed in 2011, 1 licensure bill passed
in 2012, and an estimated 7 bills being filed in 2013 that seek to create either title
protection or a licensure for music therapy. This month, our focus is on YOU and
on getting you excited about advocacy!

Still to come this month: the return of Loopy Stanley! And a guest post from a parent of a child receiving Music Therapy services.


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4 Responses to “The Space Between: CONNECTing Music Therapy & Music Ed”

  1. Stephanie says:

    I like your post, Natasha! I’m married to a music educator, and while I know every educator is different I feel pretty connected to the world of music ed because of him! I love talking to him about the connections between what each of us do and I’d like to think we both benefit from the conversation :)

    • Agreed Stephanie! Thanks for you comment – my husband was a music ed major briefly in college (he ended up going the composition route but teaches individual percussion lessons now :-) but you’re right, there’s so much to be gained from sharing our respective insights!

  2. Angie Kopshy says:

    Thanks so much for your post, Natasha. All great reminders. And I love that you gave a shout out to our awesome advocate, Ben Folds. And I’m particularly delighted that this article had a link to your video on your work at the ND School for the blind and deaf. Great portrayal of your work and the differentiation between the many ways you work with kids.