By Renee De Luca, MusicWorx Intern
Advocating to the Point of Frustration
From the moment you enter your clinical workplace to the moment you return to your car, you are constantly advocating and justifying your profession. The guitar on your back turns heads in almost every hallway, elevator, or waiting room. People will come up to you and state, “Wow! A musician! Your job must be so much fun, just singing for patients?” The other staff members at the facility will say, “They might like some musical therapy.” Or the person that volunteers their time will state, “I do music therapy too; I love going from room to room playing.” This misinformation just reinforces old, counterproductive stereotypes of our job, and then you have to decide whether you have time with your case load to stop and politely educate them or just smile and move on. You think, I did not know going into music therapy that 50% of my job would be justifying, advocating, and explaining what in the world I do in a day. By the first day of your job, you have mastered the elevator speech to the point you can roboticly state it and go about your day.
Constantly fighting and declaring to your patients’ care teams why you are important is frustrating. I have also experienced nurses or other staff members that become rude, frustrated, and condescending as I try to seek out referrals within the hospital setting. Nurses and other staff have even blatantly disrupt a beautiful session because of lack of knowledge which tends to happen more often on a floor where there is a lot of traveling nurses, high turnover rates, or your schedule is inconsistent on certain floors due to many outside factors. So, I often found myself asking the questions in pure frustration: How do I get high priority referrals? How do I get the staff to find me useful or to stop interrupting my sessions? And how do I differentiate myself from the guy who calls himself a music therapist but doesn’t even know what “MT-BC” means?
Speed Dating the World
As you answer the questions or address the doubts of medical professionals and administrators, you find that there is so much information to give and so little time. Talking to these people may feel like speed dating, where you want to give all these amazing qualities about what you do in hope for a promising, well-rounded phone call back. You want them to discover the love of their lives through your profession. I have found several ways to “win” over staff and others about music therapy throughout my internship and noticed some trends that might help out a fellow therapist with limited time. The way I approach this battle changes depending on who I am talking to.
Talk the talk and walk the walk – when they say, “oh, see this person because they are nice or don’t see this person because they are grumpy…” you can politely inform them of how the brain processes the musical stimuli using their terminology. If they just give you room numbers, you can ask why they are referred and ask about the patient’s goals for the day. I have found that remaining confident and using their vocabulary increases their respect. If you can hold a conversation where they purposefully throw jargon in, you gain more credibility in their eyes. Also, reporting back to them about any relevant changes to the patient’s/client’s issues will help the staff member to see the benefits of music therapy.
Advocate for THEIR Needs – You may recall a blog from my fellow co-intern, Danielle Angeloni, who wrote a blog about code lavender. The code has helped me win an entire floor in literally a 30 second conversation. The nurse was giving me a lot of sass and basically told me to get lost, but I turned the conversation around by stating that their job must be super stressful and asked if they ever done a code lavender. The nurse went from avoiding me to giving me great referrals and seeking out my services. Furthermore, through the code lavender, the staff experience music therapy firsthand, which will help them understand the importance even more.
They are a person too, not an obstacle – often walking around we just do our job and move on from floor to floor to floor, but have you ever stopped and asked them “How are you doing?” or “I like your _____, where did you get it?” Simple water bubbler talk will help build relationships and hopefully lead to a more receptive understanding between the two of you. I have found, if I follow-up and ask about their weekend trip or family, that they will feel more comfortable around me and bridge the gap between us. We often look at medical staff as people who interrupt our sessions, chase us away from sessions, or are just another wall in our way. But approaching them as people and being kind will not only gain their respect, but also stop them from barging in the session, talking loudly in the room, or shouting down the hallway waking the sleeping baby you just worked so hard to calm down.
Work with them – Mary Poppins says, “Just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,” and honestly, she is right. Along the same vein of the last point, instead of looking at musicians as obstacles, arrange a time to work together. As you start to grow a relationship and open up a pathway of conversation, either they will naturally become enlightened or it will open up a space to chat that will be better received. Any artist who is proud of what they may not appreciate learning they lack qualifications and training. Offending them will grow yet another barrier between music therapists and the world. We are trying to grow our profession, and do have a shortage of music therapists, so take the opportunity to educate, grow, and inspire, instead of shooting musicians down from the start. Remember the speed dating: we want them to get to know and like us in order to advance this profession and knowledge of what we do.
Talk the talk and walk the walk – using medical jargon may not convince personal friends and family that music therapy is a legitimate profession and might just irritate them. Be sensitive to whom you are talking with and give relatable examples to help them understand.
Q: “How can you do all these things and co-treat with all these professions?”
A: “Music therapy helps in many domains because we look at a person as a whole, meaning social, emotional, sensorimotor and more interact with each other. For example, music therapy has many layers like a birthday cake. The cake layers are the domains (social, emotional, cognitive, sensorimotor, etc.), and the frosting is the music, which encases all the domains and brings it all together, because of the way music is processed in the brain.” Then I would further my explanation with a HIPAA-compliant case study example.
Demonstration Station – Just like when you are giving an in-service with live demonstrations, giving live demonstrations to family, friends, or even other professionals will take you far. It could be as simple as having them walk and start singing a different tempo, and watch them entrain, or having them talk about when music changed their lives. Other demonstrations of interventions take more time but are extremely effective because the power of a personal experience.
- Be confident
- Use shared terminology & open communication
- Think about them and what you can do/best support the staffs and family’s needs and communicate that
- Build relationships
- Be kind
- Be patient
- Be a condescending know-it-all
- Disregard their human needs (validation, emotions, etc.)
- Disregard their professional to-do list