Back to School: Philosophical Approaches

Back to School

#4: Philosophical Approaches

One of my favorite aspects of training interns is assisting students in defining their professional identity. As a music therapy student, you are taught the various ways in which one can practice music therapy but are often only exposed to a couple of approaches. Each therapist has the opportunity to define who they are as a professional and how they approach their work with their clients. Often these approaches evolve over years and require a lot of self-reflection and awareness to define to yourself and others.

For students, internship is your first opportunity to truly test your foundations as a therapist. It can often feel confusing, overwhelming, or even opposing to your mentor’s feedback. Certainly, like-minded individuals tend to cluster so you may find that your mentor(s) have similar thoughts and ideas about how to approach something whereas other areas feel less straightforward.

I have a slight advantage to viewing this particular topic openly because I view my therapeutic approach as being: eclectic. I find value in a variety of approaches and recognize their importance for a number of situations. There are certain approaches to music therapy that I lean more heavily towards, but I adhere to the belief that particular approaches are more evidenced-based for certain situations. Therefore, I’m likely to alter how I provide therapy based on the needs, assessment, and goal-areas for each situation.

For example, how I serve a premature infant in the NICU might be considered fairly behavioral. How I serve a teenager on a general medicine unit who has a mental health disorder might be more person-centered or even within the cognitive-behavioral realm. Alternately, how I assist a kiddo with a traumatic brain injury would be addressed through a Neurologic Music Therapy framework. If I were working with someone with sickle cell disease, I may come from a more biopsychosocial model to address pain management. Additionally, I would likely blend all of these (or more) at once to address the whole-person.

Another way an eclectic approach is described is: integrative. Integrative is a term that really resonates with me because it depicts integrating various factors together in order to achieve a more “whole” approach. I personally aim to assist someone as a whole-person as well as help the medical team work towards their goals for the patient. Often these two aspects don’t always align, which is where I feel most comfortable inserting myself to assist.

Approaches, philosophies, and frameworks all mean the same thing, and there are a multitude that a music therapist can draw from. It is undoubtedly overwhelming to find where you fit. Various music therapy programs align with certain approaches and you may find that your own identity is shaped by the mentors who help teach you. What becomes confusing for students is the belief that they have to approach their music therapy practice exactly the same way as their mentors. This is not true! Mentors may challenge your thinking or ask you to re-frame ideas for certain reasons, but most mentors are hoping that you can discover independently how you’ve been called to practice. Anyone will be their most effective version of themselves if given the opportunity to be who they are individually.

It took me awhile to determine who I was as a music therapist. I had very strong mentors who taught me great lessons. It was easy to assume that I should be exactly like them because they were great therapists. As I began to be more independent and rely on my own self-reflection, I found that who I was as my own individual was even greater than who I was going to be if I copied my mentors. Sure, there are a number of aspects about my identity that are similar to them (it’s impossible not to be) but there are other things that I practice differently. It is one of personal goals to constantly be evolving my identity, which will ultimately only add more mentors to my life.

Trust in yourself as a student or new professional that being open to the possibilities of who you are and can be will help determine your approach to music therapy. You may find that some aspects require a “trial period” of sorts, whereas other aspects are completely natural. Regardless of your journey to your music therapy identity, the world will be better off having your unique self in it.

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