no one had discussed that with me or even informed me , nor even thought about where my group would meet instead .
To be clear : I don ’ t particularly care about having a nice office , and I certainly don ’ t believe music therapy can only happen in a ‘ pretty ’ room ( though privacy and being able to hear one another would be nice !). Rather , I cite these incidents to provide examples of the steady stream of morale-crushing “ You ’ re just not worth much ” messages I received as a music therapist .
I promised above to say more about co-workers telling you how you should conduct your sessions ; that will be my final example of the things that led to my job dissatisfaction . This issue demonstrates a combination of several factors I ’ ve already mentioned : the erroneous belief that music therapy is ‘ easy ,’ the tolerance of verbal abuse in institutions , the devaluation of our work , and the tendency of staff to believe that they should be in charge on their ‘ turf .’ Naturally , this will be more of an issue if you work in a setting where you have to have staff present during sessions , as was the case in my final music therapy job . Their interference went far beyond mere ‘ suggestions ;’ when I chose not to follow their directives , they often responded by becoming insulting and disruptive , aggressively demanding an explanation for my choice , and complaining to my supervisor .
Fortunately , my supervisor was largely supportive and did have some understanding of what music therapy involves . Sometimes she was able to minimize staff involvement in my sessions , which was helpful . Less helpful , however , was her suggestion that I write something to help the staff understand what I was doing . I felt that was not feasible , and more important , I felt it didn ’ t address the root of the problem : the staff ’ s failure to respect a trained professional ’ s judgment in a field about which they knew virtually nothing . ( I doubt that they told the dentist which tooth to drill — yet they probably knew more about dentistry than they did about music therapy .)
You may be wondering why and how I stayed with it as long as I did . Well , I ‘ dealt ’ with it — unsuccessfully , apparently — in many ways . I tried convincing myself I was wrong to feel the way I did , that I should be able to better tolerate all the ugliness I witnessed and was subjected to . I tried to become the best music therapist I could . I tried to demonstrate the value of music therapy to my coworkers . I attended conferences and gave presentations , and the inspiration and validation I received there did indeed lift me up ... for a few days out of the year . I tried changing music therapy jobs , repeatedly , until I finally concluded that they just didn ’ t vary that much : the issues that were eroding my job satisfaction and emotional wellbeing are systemic and present in ( almost ?) every institution .
I know some music therapists are happy in their jobs . Some work in awful institutions and manage to deal with it better than I ever did . Maybe some even work in places where their work is respected and the clients are welltreated . And some are miserable and continue to stick it out anyway , for whatever reason ( s ). I was one of the ones who just couldn ’ t take it anymore .
Do I have any solutions to offer ? The conditions in institutions , the way our society treats people with disabilities and other vulnerable populations ... Those are huge issues that can only be addressed by society as a whole . But I do believe there are things the music therapy profession can do -- and things we can avoid doing -- to address some of the other issues I ’ ve described . We can stop suggesting ( particularly to students and those considering entering the field ) that being a music therapist is an easy , fun job ; both clinicians and educators should consistently present music therapy as the extremely challenging field it is . On a related point : we can avoid suggesting that the goal of music therapy is to entertain or ‘ cheer people up ’ and instead honor the fact that we are asking our clients to change in some way , and that is serious , challenging work for them too .
We can focus on doing high quality work that requires our special skills as musicians and therapists , rather than activities like ‘ balloon bopping .’ ( We can hardly blame people for thinking that music therapy is something anyone can do when they see us doing things that , well , anyone can do .) We can also underscore the importance of being trained to use a modality by not ‘ dabbling ’ in other modalities ( e . g ., art ) ourselves . By letting go of some of these unnecessary practices , education programs would be sacrificing some breadth , but would then be able to go into more depth in more relevant areas , helping their students be prepared to do quality work as music therapists .
Epilogue : ( In case anyone is curious .) Nine years ago I accepted a position as a paraprofessional in a university music and dance library . Obviously , the job duties are different ; much more important to me is the vast difference in the setting . It ’ s clean , it ’ s quiet , my coworkers are always polite and appreciative , and I neither witness nor receive any abuse .
Editor ’ s Note : This article was originally written as a response to a blog post Roia wrote , “ So You Want to Become a Music Therapist ” which you can find here .
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