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Diversifying Your Practice

By Anna Limina, MusicWorx Intern

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Diversifying Your Practice

In light of the recent events going on in the United States, it is time the music therapy community takes a look into how systematic racism has impacted its field. This is hard and uncomfortable work for non-black music therapists, and I am writing this from my experience as a white music therapy student. While we as individuals and professionals are actively working to  be anti-racist, we are living in a country that is, and has been systemically built on it. In particular when working in healthcare, we have a system of hierarchy in place that is negatively impacting our patients and peers who are minorities. First, look at data collected by the AMTA on the ethnicity of music therapists in the United States. Notice how 88.4% of Board Certified music therapists are White/Caucasian/European.

This leads us to the question: Why aren’t there more BIPOC music therapists? And what can we do about it?

Understanding Systematic Racism

For your consideration and personal knowledge, here is a short educational video explaining how systematic racism in the United States works. This can be used both as a resource to you or to bring awareness to others.

Coming to Terms with Privilege…

Now that we have established the fact that there is a major disproportion in ethnicity in our field, let’s take a second to think about how that effects both our coworkers and our clients.

Accessibility

College Education

“Overall, 24 percent of Black and African American  people have a bachelor’s degree or higher as of 2017” (Pew Research Center. (2018).

Affording any college is difficult for the majority of U.S. Americans- a four-year degree costs an average of around $120,000. Seeing how expensive it is to attend a university alone could be enough to deter a prospective student. The additional cost of being able to study anything related to music, due to the stigma that musicians don’t make a lot of money, is a huge privilege. Take a look at data from the 2018 U.S. Census Bureau, and note how black families have the lowest average income, putting them at one of the biggest disadvantages to having access to college level education. With this information, consider the additional hard work and expenses that come with training to become a music therapist. Consider how some of our black colleagues are at a disadvantage from the start when it comes to resources to be able to complete a music therapy degree.

How This Affects Your Clients & Coworkers

While attending and affording college is a struggle for many Americans, some have different advantages others do not-, this directly translates into the world of therapy. There is still a large  stigma when people attend talk therapy, and so it would not be hard to image when the general public is even more reluctant to accept alternative forms of therapy.

From Mental Health America’s website, they state from A study conducted by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, and Brown in 2013 that….

  • Black and African American hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. The participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seek mental health services.
  • Thirty percent of participants reported having a mental illness or receiving treatment for a mental illness
  • Black and African American men are particularly concerned about stigma.
  • Cohort effects, exposure to mental illness, and increased knowledge of mental illness are factors that could potentially change beliefs about symptoms of mental illness.
  • Participants appeared apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues, which is consistent with previous research. However, participants were willing to seek out some form of help.

“Although anyone can develop a mental health problem, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. African American youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%.1 African Americans are also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence.”

“In the African American community, people often misunderstand what a mental health condition is and therefore the subject is uncommon. This lack of understanding leads many to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness or a form of punishment. Many African Americans have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which leads to them underestimating the effects of mental health conditions. African Americans may also be reluctant to discuss mental health issues and seek treatment because of the shame and stigma still associated with such conditions in their community.” 

How Does This Relate To Music Therapy?

Looking at the data, it’s obvious that black families in the United States are put at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing education and therapy. Majority of music therapy internships are unpaid and require 40 hours a week of work for the course of 6 months. While that concept is unimaginable for majority of young Americans, most black Americans are at a disadvantage. Take a second to think about how many black peers and coworkers you have as a music therapist.

If you are white, in order to become a better music therapist it is vital that you take some time to educate yourself about the history of black music in the United States, be aware of your biases and microaggressions, and take time think of ways to equip yourself with the ability and knowledge to support all of your clients. Linked below is a blog post from Psychology Today’s website that dives deeper into how therapists can drive away minority clients.

Resources for White Music Therapists to Become Anti-Racist

(From Unicorn Riot or The Okra Project, or Project Motherpath)

 

Activities:

  1. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (Peggy McIntonsh)
  2. Racial Bias Test (Harvard) —  this will help you understand what your biases might be

Podcasts:

  1. Whistling Vivaldi (NPR)

Videos:

  1. “I’m Still Here,” by Austin Channing Brown (Art of the Sermon)
  2. “White Awake” by Daniel Hill (FSP Chicago)

Articles:

  1. “Walking While Black” (Garnette Cadogan)

Books:

  1. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria (Beverly Tatum)
  2. I’m Still Here (Austin Channing Brown)
  3. Whistling Vivaldi (Claude Steel)
  4. White Awake (Daniel Hill)
  5. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  6. Why I No Longer Talk to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Loge
  7. The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

 

If you are reading this as a member of the black community who is a music therapist, student, or music lover, here are some resources for you and your wellbeing.

For Black Music Therapists:

For Black Mental Health:

From Mental Health America’s Website:

  • Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM): BEAM is a training, movement building and grant making organization dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black communities. BEAM envisions a world where there are no barriers to Black Healing.
  • Toolkits & Education: graphics on accountability, self-control, and emotional awareness; journal prompts; articles on Black mental health
  • Videos: trainings and webinars, recorded and available for free
  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: changing the perception of mental illness in the African-American community by encouraging people to get the help they need; focuses on stigma/self-stigma reduction and building trust between Black people and the mental health field.
  • Resource Guide:directory of mental health providers and programs that serve the Black community; includes therapists, support groups, etc, but also digital content, faith-based programs, educational programs, etc
  • Therapy for Black Girls: online space encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls; referral tool to find a therapist in your area
  • Therapist Directory: find trusted therapists that can help you navigate being a strong, Black woman; can search for in-office therapist by your location or virtual therapist
  • The Yellow Couch Collective: a paid membership community ($9.99/mo), space for Black women to gather to support, encourage, and learn from each other.
  • The Loveland Foundation: financial assistance to Black women & girls seeking therapy
  • Apply to receive funds for 2020 Summer/Fall
  • Therapy for Black Men: primarily a therapist directory for Black men seeking therapy; includes some resources and stories
  • Therapist Directory
  • Ebony’s My Therapy Cards: self-exploration card deck created by a Black female psychologist for other women of color; created with the intention of helping other women of color grow and elevate in the areas of emotional and mental health.

With all of these resources and information, if you’re a white music therapist, take a second to think about how your white privilege has put you at an advantage in your career. What can you do moving forward to make your practice more diverse? How can you help uplift your black peers, patients, and coworkers?

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