Music Therapy Clinician: Supporting reflective clinical practice 2 - Page 15

“ Why Did You Leave Music Therapy ?” One ( ex- ) Music Therapist ’ s Answer

Judy Belland , MCAT
After earning two degrees and working for over 20 years in multiple settings as a music therapist , clinical supervisor , and educator , I decided to leave the field . Naturally , having invested that much into my career , I gave a great deal of thought to that decision and my reasons for making it . In this commentary , I would like to direct myself particularly to people with less experience ( e . g ., new professionals , current music therapy students , and people considering going into the field ).
First , two background points I hope the reader will keep in mind : 1 ) What I have to say here is based on my own experience , which , naturally , has varied from other music therapists ’. However , I hope no one will make the mistake of dismissing what I say as being particular to me alone . I have discussed these issues with many , many music therapists over the years , so I know that my experience is far from unique -- in fact , I believe much of what I ’ ll describe here is entirely typical of most music therapists ’ experiences . 2 ) My goal is not to dissuade anyone from being a music therapist , nor merely to ‘ vent ,’ nor even to enjoy wallowing in the mud of ‘ misery loves company ’ with my colleagues who have suffered the same frustrations . Rather , my goal is to highlight some topics I believe have been unwisely considered taboo , especially in terms of what is shared with students . The many discussions I referred to above were informal conversations with other music therapists -- not , say , the topic of conference presentations . ( After all , taboo topics , by definition , tend NOT to be talked about !) I hope to spark more open discussion of these issues .
The primary thing I believe most people considering a career in music therapy aren ’ t told , don ’ t know , and need to know is that it ’ s a hard job . It ’ s very hard . It is extremely hard . It is extremely hard in many ways . I often say ( only half facetiously ) that most young people choosing this field imagine that they ’ ll spend their workday playing games with happy , well-behaved children , accompanied by recorded “ background music .” Not so .
First , you have to complete your education . Take a look at the American Music Therapy Association ’ s list of competencies . There ’ s a tremendous amount of information and skills you are supposed to learn just to get your bachelor ’ s degree . If you enter a program that values creating competent music therapists , you should expect to work incredibly hard . And after finally completing your degree and finding your first job , you should expect to find ... that you still don ’ t know enough . Because of the tremendous breadth of knowledge covered , a bachelor ’ s degree in music therapy is like getting an introduction to countless areas -- but not a lot more than an introduction to any one area . No one should expect to be an ‘ expert ’ straight out of any program . It takes years of practice to become accomplished . The most experienced and effective music therapists will tell you that learning about music therapy is a lifelong process . ( Fortunately , the profession as a whole reinforces this fact by requiring continuing education in order to remain board certified .)
You may decide that your need for increased knowledge and skill would best be met by getting a graduate degree in music therapy . If so , you should be aware that , again , any worthwhile program will be extremely demanding . What people are less likely to tell you is that having that advanced degree will probably increase your income by only a small amount , if at all . I certainly support people getting additional education to add to their ability to be effective therapists , and you ’ ll get no argument from me if you feel that that alone is worth the investment , but still ... anyone considering making the major investment of time and money required to get a graduate degree should be aware that , from a strictly financial point of view , it is unlikely to pay off .
The next factor that makes our job so hard ( and the main reason I left the field ) is the nature of the settings in which we work . Most music therapists work in institutions : medical and psychiatric hospitals , schools and residences for people with developmental disabilities , nursing homes , prisons , etc . Unfortunately , institutions are unpleasant places . They can be an assault on your senses : they are ugly , noisy , dirty , and smelly ; usually either too hot or too cold regardless of the season . They are filled with people who don ’ t want to be there -- and yes , I am referring to both the clients and the staff .
But the worst , in my opinion , is the assault on your emotions . To state it flatly : Expect to witness abuse . Frequently . Maybe every day . It is rampant . You may rarely -- maybe even never -- witness actual physical or
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