5 Considerations When Building MT Programs

This past month has been very focused on music therapy. Having now been at my new job for 6 weeks, my music therapy-ness has recharged into turbo speed – gathering and implementing new MT interventions, learning new songs, researching, and creating goals and visions. I have finally settled into a new routine, but I have been working endlessly not to settle too comfortably. This new job has been an amazing opportunity to educate and advocate for music therapy, and its role on the interdisciplinary team. But I haven’t forgotten my goals and desires for what this music therapy role can become in this particular job.

Working to start another music therapy program within a new position has given me many opportunities to consider priorities, understanding of hospital systems, and everyday language used as a professional. For many moments throughout the past few weeks, I have had to stop and consider, “What is most important at this moment?” It has been fascinating learning about myself as a professional and how I take the steps to advocate for what is most important to me and my role as a music therapist in a new job.

Here are 5 thoughts I’ve contemplated as I’ve begun this exploration in advocating for my role, and for the future of music therapy in this hospital program.

First, don’t be shy about your goals. At first, I thought that I should keep some ideas and thoughts to myself because I didn’t want to disturb the waters, or ruffle any feathers. But I quickly realized that if you start sharing your ideas and visions for the future of the program, the easier it will be for your peers and supervisors to understand where you are coming from, and where you are going. This will make it clearer for them the choices that you make, and it will help direct you in your everyday work. It will also prevent any surprises for your supervisors or bosses when you do suddenly drop your intentions or visions. Most importantly, this means that it will also be clearer for you from the start any obstacles or challenges you might encounter along your path towards these goals.

Second, don’t let the education slide. It is easy when you are the new person to not want to ruffle any feathers as coming off as “defensive” when someone mispronounces your professional title, (“musical therapist”), the department you are a part of (“recreation department” instead of “integrated therapies”), or what it is exactly you offer to the patients. This can be extremely awkward if you don’t fix the first time, and you have to correct a month later…. [Not that I have any experience in this…]. If you educate a team member from the start, this will help facilitate discussion about your profession and how you can effectively help your patients.

(Side Note: I received this wonderful advice from another MT recently, who said, “try your best not to come across as defensive when describing music therapy, but remember that most people simply don’t know what you do. It’s a lack of education.” Very helpful to keep in mind!)

Third, do try your best to learn the history of the program, facility, leadership, etc as soon as possible. This, again, will help inform you on any challenges you might face in working towards your goals. This is where you might learn of any past history of what has been tried before, or what has never been addressed. This is the area where you might find that no one has asked, “why?” before, and maybe you’re the person to do it.

Fourth, do try your best to go above and beyond. Other than the obvious reasons of wanting to do your best, this will help you identify your work limits. Are you considering trying to see one more patient a day? Try it. If it ends up being too much, now you know. But maybe adding that one more patient during the day didn’t take up nearly as much time as you expected and would be feasible. I tried this a couple of times, one day trying to squeeze in a one-on-one session in between a couple of groups. The other time I tried to see a unit I had never seen before, that often is neglected by the other integrated therapies due to many various reasons. Turns out, it was not so scary as I imagined. Be willing to try and discover what you can and can’t do, because this will help inform you on your limits and your abilities.

Lastly, initiate, initiate, initiate. Ahh, in so many areas – initiate. Step out of your comfort zone and strike up that conversation with your co-worker you pass in the hallway but don’t normally interact with in the therapeutic setting. Want to have a sit-down meeting with your supervisor to go over those goals you have in mind? Set it up with them – don’t wait around for them to check-in! Finally, remember those visions you’ve been dreaming about? Initiate them! Start taking the steps necessary to put them into action.

Mostly, what I have found over the last few weeks is that if I think too hard about whether or not I should do something in this new job, I lose out on the opportunity. Don’t let the little worries get in the way of what you believe should be done now, and in the future. You will never be “all the things” and you can always worry about whether or not you have enough experience, are old enough, have been here long enough, etc. Make sure you settle enough to become comfortable with who you are as this professional, but don’t settle for where you could be a year from now.

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