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Posturing For the New Music Therapist

By Anne Delleman, MusicWorx Intern

A young professional can easily feel unqualified in the field of music therapy, where experience is given significant weight. This lack in confidence may limit a beginning music therapist from acting as mover or influencer within the profession. Becoming aware of and developing our posture can be the first step towards taking a larger role in the development and expansion of the music therapy field.

What is the meaning of professional posture?  What does it include? And what are the risks and benefits of taking on leadership, research, or entrepreneurial roles early in your music therapy career?

Defining professional posture

The second and third definitions for “posture” in the Merriam Webster dictionary are:

      2: state or condition at a given time especially with respect to capability in particular circumstances

      3: a conscious mental or outward behavioral attitude

When defining ‘professional posture’, I like to consider these definitions simultaneously. Thus, maintaining our professional posture as music therapists includes two major elements- how we continue to learn new skills and how we develop confidence in them.  

Improve your professional posture

  • Hold yourself accountable for outcomes: If something doesn’t go to plan, don’t blame it on forces outside of your control. Instead, always ask yourself what you could have done differently so that you don’t make the same mistakes again. Constant analysis of your performance will result in steady growth throughout your career.
  • Expand your network and seek supervision: Music therapists often work independently of one another, so we may lack opportunities for supervision (by other music therapists) and close collaboration after internship. By staying active in online music therapy networks, attending local and national conferences and maintaining professional relationships built in school/internship a music therapist can continue to learn techniques, and develop/bounce ideas off of others. If you’re struggling to find your own opportunities, some music therapy companies (like our company MusicWorx in San Diego) offer clinical supervision for an hourly rate.
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities for positive change: Ask yourself “how could I improve this?” and don’t assume someone will do it first. Write your ideas down and research the ones that excite you the most. If you discover a population or client that you think could benefit from music therapy, don’t wait for someone else to seize the opportunity. When you learn about developments in related fields, ask yourself how music therapy could parallel and what it would take. Music therapists are creative; if we let our creativity run freely and acknowledge what it finds, we are bound to push the current limits of the profession.
  • Be an active learner: Our learning does not end when we leave school. As professionals, our responsibility is to not only meaningfully engage  in the required continuing education requirements, but also to seek out learning. Subscribing to research journals, looking for opportunities to observe other music therapists, and attending conferences are just a few of the ways we can take action. Music therapists in their first few years may find themselves insecure about their skills, by taking an inventory of what they feel competent in and setting specific goals/taking action, they can find themselves confident and ready to take on higher roles much sooner than if they were to take a passive role in their learning.
  • Present yourself confidently: A confident practitioner will have better communication and will find themselves taking positive risks that can turn into growth and learning. Finding this confidence can be especially difficult for new music therapists, but by recognizing the skills we DO have and feeling secure in our ability to learn new ones we can surely ‘fake it until we make it.’

Why now?

The sooner a music therapist develops their professional posture, the sooner they will be prepared for the responsibility of research and job opportunities. With our profession continuing to show steady growth in the hands of our mentors, you may ask “Why us?” Here’s why:

  • Young music therapists greatly outnumber older therapists! The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) conducted a workforce analysis survey of music therapists in 2017 and found that the 20 to 29-year-old age group was the largest by 38%. In fact, the survey reported that there were more music therapists between the ages of 20 and 29 than there were in the 40-49, 50-59 and 60-69 age groups COMBINED. With the growing number of university programs in the United States, the number of young music therapists will continue to outnumber the “experienced”! We can continue the trend set forth by our mentors by creating jobs not only for ourselves but for the generation of music therapists to follow. With greater numbers, we can also spread awareness and information about our profession to wider audiences and ultimately serve more consumers. How exciting!
  • Based on current generational trends, millennials are taking on the responsibilities of homeownership, marriage, and children later in life compared to generations before. This shift in lifestyle, which may be due to economic and/or social factors, can lead to greater flexibility with time, travel, and location. This flexibility is conducive to developing a project, leadership role, research idea, or business plan.
  • We have a long career ahead of us with potential for decades of active influence. Think of it like investing- the earlier the start, the more gain in the long run.  One example is the MusicWorx internship, which after 20 years had graduated 160 interns, of those interns 42 own business of their own and 12 interns have internship programs of their own. The number of jobs for music therapists that the program has created is hard to imagine!  I broke down how many jobs an internship program like the one at MusicWorx could potentially create:

Imagine sponsoring a music therapy internship where, each year, one intern starts a business that employs three music therapists. Assume that one intern every 4 years also becomes an internship director that follows the same trend as yours (graduating one intern a year that starts a company, and so forth).

  • Over 8 years, you would be partially responsible for the creation of 56 jobs or 7  jobs per year.
  • Over sixteen years, you would be partially responsible for the creation of 264 jobs or 16.3  jobs a year.
  • Over 24 years, you would be partially responsible for creating 1,006  jobs or 41.9 jobs a year.

Notice that in 16 years the number of jobs created increased by over 6x. These numbers are hypothetical, but not unreasonable! The MusicWorx internship has actually created more than two business owners per year (as opposed to one) and one intern director per every other, however it is hard to estimate how many employees each.

Pros and cons to consider when taking on new roles

PROS

  • Ability to act as decision maker
  • Can develop own ideas and chase opportunities
  • Opportunity to select special projects and extend diversity
  • Potentially responsible for creation of jobs for music therapists
  • Chances for networking opportunities including chances to work with individual outside of MT field
  • Can increase public familiarity of music therapy
  • Able to extend benefits of music therapy to more populations and more consumers

CONS

  • Must develop own support group and opportunities for networking (especially when owning own business)
  • Requires high level of expertise and ability to handle large responsibilities
  • Requires self-discipline
  • If owning own business, no work= no pay and all expenses are on you
  • Requires significant time requirements and vacations can be hard to come by
  • Carries responsibilities for the rest of the field

So what?

Many of the above “cons” that new professionals focus on are related to experience, but by growing our professional posture using the suggestions listed we can expand our expertise and our confidence to take on tough responsibilities. When we intentionally focus on our growth we can be surprised but what we can accomplish in a few years. By putting in this effort early in our career we can make a larger impact within our own practice while also adding to the current momentum that the music therapy field is displaying.

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