The Real, Eclectic Music Therapist

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When I first started this blog, over three years ago now, I was working part-time for a music therapy private practice. I was still determining who I was as a music therapist, having only been in the field for a brief period of time. I moved into a full-time job a few months after that and began to work within mental health. During this time, I completed my master’s degree and began to really define and determine my own identity within music therapy.

I found that what I was writing about was resonating with others – whether they were music therapists, students, or simply people who understand music. I wrote a lot about what I was experiencing within the mental health field and how that related to what I was learning in my degree program. Since my master’s focused intensely on pathologies, integrative medicine, and neuroscience, it was easy to connect the dots between the book-learning and the real-life experiences within my work. Apparently those topics were things that people understood, because I saw an increasing number of people tuning in and using my thoughts and experiences as a resource to find their own answers to their questions about music therapy.

Without me really taking ownership of my identity as a mental health music therapist, I found that to be how I was considered by others. I started to receive many comments and emails from people as well as my work being referenced elsewhere. I was honored that people connected with what I had to say, and I was more than happy to respond and connect more personally when contacted. I like to be challenged by others’ thinking and their questions, and I found that the more other people reached out to me, the more I was truly considering the depth of my work and the reasons why music therapy works.

Except, I never considered myself to be a mental health music therapist. In fact, I knew very little about mental health prior to my start in the field, other than what I had studied in my undergrad degree, one practicum in child psych, and a rotation in adult psych during my medical internship. Sure, I had the foundational training that I needed in order to set myself up for success while learning more about the field, but it wasn’t the field that I was passionate about. I think many music therapists can understand the challenge in working in your most desired population versus working in a full-time job. I will be frankly honest in saying that I took my job in mental health because it was the only full-time, benefited job in music therapy in my area.

I was truly faking it until I made it when I started that job. I barely recalled information from the DSM-IV (because the V was not out when I was studying psych), I knew nothing about the mental health system within the state of Florida, and I knew of only a handful of evidenced-based interventions specific to psych. I was open to learning, I was excited that a hospital-system wanted a full-time music therapist, and I was dedicated to doing my best – but it was a population I was only mildly interested in. I knew that I would only do my best within this population for a period of time before I wanted to move towards my preferred population of medicine.

I wrote about my experiences within mental health because it was helpful to express what I was learning about this field. I grew a deep appreciation for the field itself as well as the people undergoing mental health crises. I began to learn more about the politics of mental health systems than I ever realized I would and my understanding of mental health began to branch into circumstances experienced in my everyday life. I took what I was experiencing and began to catalogue it into my understanding of the brain and of humanity – what makes up a person and how our pathologies affect our self-identity. I began to learn more about who I was as a music therapist and who I want to become.

Apparently the things I learned and wrote about resonated with others, and it is something I have been very honored to experience, but I began to feel guilty about being considered a “mental health music therapist” when I was looking to change my own music therapy identity. Almost a year ago now, a new music therapy opportunity opened up within a children’s hospital. I jumped at the chance to apply because that was my passion. Not necessarily just pediatrics – but the medical field as a whole. I have now been in this position for almost a year, and yet, this is the first time I have purposefully written about this change.

I still consider myself to be a resource on mental health music therapy. I think that my interests and desire to understand music and music therapy through neuroscience is a unique twist on mental health practices within the field of music therapy. But, my truest passions are in understanding that same depth for all pathologies and ages. In my current job, I have the opportunity to work with all diseases, pathologies, and disorders -mental health being one of them. I find the same amount of professional excitement when a teenager comes in for medical stability after a suicide attempt as I do with working with infants experiencing neonatal abstinence syndrome, or a child going through a bone marrow transplant. This is a the field for which where I feel I’ve been trained and prepared to provide services. I have always considered myself to be a medical music therapist – even during my time within mental health – but now is the first time that I feel that I am no longer misrepresenting myself.

My desire to be more explicit about these thoughts may not seem to be necessary, but it is important to me to express in order to truly own my new role within pediatrics. Our identity of who we are as clinicians and how we express that role to others can be crucial in advocating for our services. Having my blog align with the actual work that I am doing is essential for me in continuing to communicate what I’m learning about music, the brain, and life. I intend on continuing to always learn, to share what I’ve learned with you, and to maintain our conversations about music therapy.

Mostly though, I want others to feel validation in accepting positions within music therapy that are not their first choice population. It is okay to be unsure about where your passion lies and to be willing to try different areas. There is no reason why our music therapy identity cannot continue to evolve. I felt a sense of responsibility in maintaining my “mental health music therapist” identity for awhile, but my acceptance of my evolving identity has allowed me to let go of that expectation. My intentions here are to encourage growth and change for others. The more you understand about yourself and your own professional identity, the more eclectic and well-rounded clinician you can be to support a greater amount of people. That, in and of itself, allows for a greater sense of purpose and advocacy.

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