How Saying “Yes” Leads to Advocacy


In the music therapy world, there’s an unspoken feeling among colleagues of being movers and shakers and big risk-takers in the healthcare world. Conversation between music therapists eventually lead to discussions of program proposal dreams, advocacy work, and general convincing of music therapy’s effectiveness to others. It’s with our advocacy that we create opportunities for ourselves and our profession. It’s our dedication to tirelessly giving our elevator speech that opens doors and conversations. It’s our passion that drives us to take leaps of faith and open ourselves up to taking a risk. It’s our altruism that fuels our desire to see patients cared for in effective ways.

January is music therapy social media advocacy month. In the past, I’ve shared my own passions for music therapy advocacy from the educational standpoint of teaching the public about music therapy. This month, however, I’ve been considering not what my advocacy has done for music therapy, but what my advocacy has done for me as a music therapist.

Advocacy can have two layers. You can publicly advocate for music therapy as a profession and you can personally advocate for yourself as a music therapist. When I stop to consider how I have personally advocated for myself as a music therapist, I realize that it mostly boils down to saying, “yes” to the big questions asked of me. This doesn’t mean that I don’t know when to say, “no”, but simply that I’ve said yes when given an opportunity, despite my comfortability (or lack thereof) with the question at hand. In other words, I’ve said yes to taking the risk.

Some of these risks have come in the form of questions such as, “Will you give a program proposal”? “Could you give a presentation on music therapy and this population”? “Are you willing to be the only music therapist at this this facility”?

When asked these big, risk-taking questions, the process of answering has never been easy. With each big question, I understood it as a risk because I felt nervous, afraid, and ultimately that I had no idea what I was doing. Why would I be willing to answer with a yes, you might wonder, despite these negative feelings?

Because, advocacy.

If I answered yes to these big questions, I was ultimately answering yes to music therapy, and more of it. Within this drive for advocacy, I could rely on a few characteristics that allow making “yes” a little easier, despite any fear or uncertainty. For me, these characteristics have been:

  1. Confidence. I distinctly remember my first program proposal as feeling like flying by the seat of my pants, despite my preparation and practice for it. I felt grateful for the resources that I had, but I truly felt like I had no idea what I was doing. However, I trusted in confidence. I was confident in who I was as a music therapist and in the vision I had for myself. 
  2. Determination. I don’t like when people tell me “no”. This knowledge of myself has ultimately manifested into determination. It also gives me fuel to practice, whether it be musical, or rehearsing of presentations, or writing and constantly re-writing, as well as focus and dedication to the thing I am advocating for or saying “yes” to.
  3. But on the other hand, I have always reminded myself to Surrender. This sense of surrender has not meant give up, but to simply let go. Once I have confidently done what needed to be done to the best of my ability, whether interviewing, offering a presentation, or putting myself out there for others to judge and assess, I eventually reach a point where I must let go, which often leads to:
  4. PatienceAfter letting go comes a point where you have done what you can and that is all that can be asked of you. Sometimes this patience looks like waiting for an acceptance letter, waiting for the right timing, or it looks like knowing that you simply can’t have all of the answers at this time. Patience is ultimately waiting to see if tomorrow may have a different opportunity.

With these characteristics, taking a risk, or saying yes, begins to feel more comfortable. And the more comfortable you are with saying yes, the more you are advocating for yourself. Every time you step out of your comfort zone and advocate for yourself, you may not be opening a door for yourself directly, but you’re opening the door for another music therapist. You begin to make your advocacy personal. It gives people a story with which to connect. It starts the conversation and brings the profession to life in a tangible way. Often, new opportunities come about because you had initially said yes.

January reminds us to continue our advocacy for our profession, but maybe it also provides us an opportunity to re-consider how we advocate. Maybe this year could provide new opportunities to advocate for ourselves as music therapists personally, which will ultimately enhance our advocacy story as a whole. Let’s make 2018 the year of saying, “yes”.

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