Music Therapy Spotlight: Earthtones Northwest
By Whitney Perry, MusicWorx Intern
Earthtones Northwest is a music therapy agency based in Portland, Oregon, specializing in music, art, and horticultural therapy. They pride themselves on “nurturing health for people of all ages through music, nature and art” and serve communities throughout Portland and Southwest Washington. Earthtones provides onsite and in-home services for clients and charge no mileage fee. This organization works with individuals of all ages, from children to older adults. Their website emphasizes the impact of music therapy with the following populations and diagnoses:
- Children with developmental delays
- Autistic and ADHD communities
- Brain injuries
- Mental health
- Developmental disabilities
- Alzheimer’s and dementia
- Hospice care
Earthtones is unique to the Music Therapy field in that their organization specializes in three forms of therapy: music, art, and horticultural*. I interviewed Kristen McSorley (a MusicWorx intern graduate, July – December, 2013) to learn more about the programs they offer and their distinctive opportunity to co-treat with other practices.
*Horticultural therapy is a practice that “combines gardening and social services to improve the lives of people with physical and mental health problems. A horticultural therapist engages a patient in gardening and plant-based activities to achieve specific therapeutic treatment goals”.
An Overview of Earthtones
According to Kristen McSorley:
Music therapy is our heart and soul […] our driving factor. We have 8 music therapists on staff, 2 horticultural therapists*, and one art therapist at this time. We consider ourselves a community-based organization, striving to create partnerships in the community and to […] meet people where they are. What makes us unique is our approach and our philosophy of practice. We value music for music’s sake, art for art’s sake, and nature for nature’s sake. A lot of our services are about helping to increase access to the arts for people. If someone is locked in a nursing facility they don’t always have a lot of access to [these services]. Bringing our therapies to them gives them an opportunity to engage with music, plants, or creative arts.
WP: What is your role on the team?
KM: I’m the music therapy supervisor: I am a music therapist; I practice music therapy, I provide supervision to our staff and I help with the administrative team. I am the communications person, in charge of social media and blogs and the website. I used to be the internship director, though that is paused during the pandemic.
WP: How many clients do you serve right now?
KM: I personally, since I have more of a part-time caseload, see about 8 [clients] per week, our full-time therapists see 17; it’s decreased because of Covid. Some sessions are virtual, some are in homes and facilities all over the Portland area. Right now we [serve] more individuals than groups. We see people in group homes, nursing facilities, their homes … It’s really sweet to see people in the home environment, it’s a different feeling. You’re working with the whole family.
WP: Do you ever get to co-treat with art and horticultural therapy?
KM: It is somewhat rare…because people can’t usually pay for two therapists at once. The most common way that I have co-treated has been with clients who receive both art and music therapy. One of my clients had art therapy and they were feeling anxious during [their sessions], so I created an art playlist to help them regulate. That was a way [for us therapists to work] together without both of us being there at the same time.
I know that our music therapists and horticultural therapists have co-treated through the internship program: we had the music therapy intern and the horticultural therapy intern together at a site with elders with dementia. […] The horticultural therapist would introduce [the] plant of the day that [the clients] passed around to smell, touch, and reminisce about. [Meanwhile] maybe the music therapist gently played guitar in the background. [They may also] write a song about the plant together or sing about the plant. Our horticultural therapists sometimes work with food, and I remember there was one [co-treat] I saw where they made ice cream and had to shake the bag really fast, so the music therapist played “Shake Rattle & Roll” and other shaking songs.
McSorley also described a recent work retreat where all three therapists (art, music and horticultural) worked together to create an experience for the team. She explained that they used leaves and a hammer to create leaf prints on a piece of paper. She laughed when she noted that they attached jingle bells to the hammer to incorporate music making. McSorley explained that collaboration is “definitely incorporated in the company, we interact a lot.”
WP: What are some of the benefits of working with this team?
KM: You learn a lot about clients’ strengths that you wouldn’t expect. A client will show themselves in art therapy in a way they’re not going to show themselves in music therapy. You might have a certain perception of a client and then learn that they do something in art therapy that just kind of blows your mind; it helps expand my perspective.
McSorley believes that the company’s current philosophy would not have developed without their multidisciplinary team, in which each therapy type embraces the idea of experiencing music, nature, or art for the sake of music, nature, or art.
WP: Do you find that you have a lot of clients who want to try all of the therapies?
KM: Definitely. We have some clients that we work with who try them all out […] so that’s really cool. We’ve had art therapy for a long time but we’ve never really advertised it. Our program was really small, and recently it has just grown. We have sites that noticed and thought “oh you have art therapy, too! Why don’t we just try that”. If sites have more than one they almost always have music therapy as well. We have one site that is a day program for elders and they alternate […] they make sure they have all three [therapies] in one week. And there’s individuals who have multiple modalities too! It’s not just the groups.
I had another client where we [spent our sessions] writing rap songs together. He never expressed an interest in art therapy but I was out one week and suggested the art therapist come in my place. He was like “yeah that sounds interesting.” They started working on album art together and we talked about him eventually adding [art therapy] as a service. So yeah, people are definitely interested in all three. It definitely attracts interns and employees too.
WP: Does your team often refer clients to one another?
KM: To some extent, we don’t always have that opportunity. [I did have] a client who was seeing me twice a month and also seeing our horticultural therapist twice a month. In our sessions, it seemed like music was maybe a little triggering to him, he was having a hard time engaging, and then I would hear about his horticultural therapy sessions, they were going great! Eventually, I suggested all four sessions be with the horticultural therapist. It was really nice to have a backup option for this person.
WP: Do you have anything else about collaboration with other professionals or specifics about your program that you would like to share?
KM: Yes. Not only do we have horticultural and art therapy but we also […] collaborate with community musicians. We co-treat with the Oregon Symphony which is awesome, and this month we’re putting together a community drum circle [experience where] we’re going to set up the drum circle and help the community musicians learn to lead it. Basically, if somebody asks to collaborate we say “yes!” We also developed a pilot group we called “Moving with Ease” that was a co-treat physical and music therapy group, part rehabilitation […] and part music for wellness. We’re still exploring the idea of how physical therapy might make sense with our organization.
If I had any advice for collaborating, it would be to trust yourself. Trust your own knowledge and expertise. Just know that you are an expert in music, and even if this person knows so much about physical or speech stuff, you know the music part and you’re going to be able to offer them something. And then also to be humble and listen. So, trust yourself and also be humble.
Collaboration with other professionals is an exciting opportunity for both you and your clients. Take advantage of any chance you are given to work with and learn more about other practices. Look for organizations in your community (hospitals, nursing homes, other therapy establishments) with similar goals and beliefs, and work to find a way to connect with them. How can you support their mission?