Congratulations to Andrew Littlefield of The Florida State University, who submitted the only essay for the first Student and Intern Support Project. I realize the timing may have been bad for many students, with finals and other end of the year stressors. Andrew’s article is very good, and he will be receiving a $100 award from the American Music Therapy Association of Students. I encourage more to apply to future contests! Congrats, Andrew!
An Essay on Advocacy
By Andrew Littlefield
Being a relatively small (and frequently misunderstood) profession, music therapists often find themselves performing an additional task outside of providing therapeutic services: advocating for the field. While those in the field or who have received music therapy services themselves are very familiar with its benefits, there are many who are not aware of what music therapy entails. By advocating for our field, we can ensure the expansion of music therapy, which will greatly benefit both therapists and potential clients.
One of the most important benefits of advocacy is the expansion of the music therapy client population. This includes broadening the field to new client populations and expanding established ones. Anyone who has spent anytime in music therapy knows the most popular question you get is “So…what exactly is music therapy?” Everyone knows what doctors, psychologists, and physical therapists do because they have such a large client population and a large percentage of the population have had experience with professionals in this field. By advocating for our field, we can make music therapy a household name, so to speak.
This benefits both the therapists and the potential clients. The benefits for clients are obvious. If more parents of children with special needs know about the benefits of music therapy they will seek it out, and we can do great things for these clients. This results in a larger (and more lucrative) market for the therapists. More contracts results in higher salaries and more new jobs for recent graduates (something I personally hope to see in the very near future!)
Another reason advocacy is a necessity is the protection of the field and the title “music therapist”. With events like the passage of the Health Care Reform Bill, the atmosphere in which many therapists are working is swiftly changing. This type of the reform has many effects on the field of music therapy. Public hospitals may find themselves with expanded budgets as a result of more patients with insurance. This could lead to the hiring of more music therapists in the medical setting, or expanding the budgets of existing programs. The reform could also lead to more attention and regulation given to professionals working in the health care industry, music therapists included.
It is important for those of us in the field to advocate with our local, state, and federal government to ensure that they know what it is that a music therapist does and the results they can provide. We need to make sure the title of “music therapist” is protected as well. Our elected officials who write up the reform bills must be able to distinguish between a music therapist and the caring individuals who volunteer their time to play the piano in the lobby of the hospital, or come by once a week to do sing-a-longs at an assisted living facility. This will ensure the credibility that organizations like AMTA and the CBMT have worked so hard to establish.
One of the most effective and far reaching ways to advocate for our field is through the multitude of outlets available on the internet. The advent of Web 2.0 has brought about many exciting venues for this. Websites such as Twitter and Facebook provide many excellent opportunities to interact and connect with a massive amount of users. As these are social websites, they automatically offer a venue where people can learn about music therapy in a setting they are comfortable and familiar with. I believe this makes people more willing to read and learn about all that music therapy can do. This also provides an excellent opportunity for music therapists all across the country to stay in contact and share ideas with each other. Blogs are another excellent venue for therapists to share their work. They allow for more creative control, as well as more content, in typically a more professional setting than social media sites.
Of course, this easy accessibility is not without its problems. As anyone can make these sites, there’s no way to ensure that only qualified professionals are claiming to be music therapists. If the AMTA started a program to certify certain blogs and websites, it would help solve this problem while also encouraging the creation of such sites and promoting existing sites.
Advocacy is essential to ensuring the growth and protection of music therapy, and it must start on a grassroots level. Individual therapists and students must take it upon themselves to educate those around them about music therapy through all the resources available to them. Technology is a powerful asset that we must utilize. By doing this we can ensure a prosperous environment for both therapists and clients alike for years to come.