I am a Music Therapist

This is a bit of a follow up to last week’s post about where I work. I thought I’d write a little about what I do and why I do it.

Music has always been a part of my life. I remember my mom sang to me all the time and even taught music at my preschool. In elementary I began my music lessons on piano, then joined the band in fifth grade and played the clarinet. When it was time to pick colleges, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I started going on scholarship auditions at the schools I had been accepted to. Our guidance counselor had recommended that we choose a “safe” school that we knew we could get into and that we could afford. Georgia College (the amper sand had not been added yet) was that school for me. Forty-five minutes from home was not necessarily my first choice! I went on the audition and over lunch heard about this Music Therapy thing. It sounded like what I was looking for. A chance to continue playing music that I loved and help others.

Fast forward a few years and I became a practicing Music Therapist. Working in a large state run psychiatric hospital. There was a long time that I really didn’t think I knew what I was doing! I just played music, had a good time and along the way found that I did make a difference to people.

The American Music Therapy Association defines Music Therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” But here’s what it is. I use music to teach you something or improve the quality of your life. We’ve all used Music Thearpy. Try saying your ABCs without singing them. When you’ve had a really trying day do you put some kind of music on your car stereo to cheer you up? What was the song playing at your first high school dance, at your wedding? Music evokes emotion and enhances memory.

For years I have joked that the one question I can answer without even thinking is “what is Music Therapy?” Every Music Therapist gets used to answering that question because we’re asked it over and over again. But times are changing! Watch this clip from Diane Sawyer’s piece on Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s rehab and try not to cry. “The Music Never Stopped” is a recent movie based on an essay by Dr. Oliver Sacks. There is evidence supporting what we do. This works.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending my third National Music Therapy conference. I saw people I haven’t seen in years. Heard all kinds of great things about what Music Therapists are doing in their settings, but it was the last thing I saw as I was leaving the conference that really reminded me of why I do what I do. As I was walking out the front door, I saw a fellow conference attendee standing outside leaning against a planeter and taking her guitar out of it’s case. I thought this was a strange site outside the entrance, but heck, we’re Music Therapists, some of us are a little odd. As I walked by, I turned around and saw her approach a young mother with three kids. She had one in her arms and was trying to keep up with the other two. The Music Therapist knealt down to the child’s level and started talking to her about the guitar and the little girl reached out and strummed it. This person used her talent to help someone else. That’s what we do. We use the talents we were given, the talents we cultivated and use them to make someone else’s life better. Is there anything more beautiful than that?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Laura Siegel
    Nov 22, 2011 @ 17:26:33

    Hi Mert,
    Have you read the novel Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult, about a music therapist? I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed your blog as well.


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