Advocating for Music Therapy Practices

By Madelyn Horton, MusicWorx Intern
Edited by Theresa Kwong, Communications Consultant

As music therapists, we are far from immune to the concept of advocacy. We learn from the get-go that advocating for our profession is a large part of our job. Because many other professions are more broadly recognized than music therapy, a lack of knowledge can cause misunderstandings among those who are not familiar with the field. According to the CBMT (Certified Board for Music Therapists), roughly 9,000 people have the MT-BC (Board Certified-Music Therapist) credential in the United States. This number is woefully small compared to the 312,716 licensed physical therapists, 147,470 speech-language pathologists, 106,000 psychologists, and 102,500 occupational therapists. Isolated and often the only example of their profession, music therapists are constantly educating and encouraging medical staff and community members about this evidence-based field. 


How Do We Advocate?

In undergrad, I had the privilege of working with and learning from Dr. Eric G. Waldon, MT-BC. Several times throughout my education at University of the Pacific, Dr. Waldon, would assign us opportunities to practice advocacy for music therapy. Oftentimes, he would ask us to practice our “elevator spiel,” a short and brief explanation of the benefits and importance of music therapy that we could hypothetically use during a brief ride with someone on — you guessed it — an elevator. When we only have a few short moments, we need to prioritize and generally use layman’s terms.


An example of a causal interaction might be as follows:

[Person] “Why do you have a guitar in a hospital?”

[MT] “I’m a music therapist, so I use my guitar when working with patients.”

[Person] “Oh, I have never heard of music therapy before. What is that?”

[MT] “As a music therapist, I visit patients who may be having an especially difficult time while they’re here in the hospital. They might be experiencing extreme pain, stress, depression, or loneliness. We usually get requests from their nurses who ask us to visit them.”

[Person] “So you go around and sing to the patients here in the hospital?”

[MT] “Well, music therapists are trained and certified with a variety of different tools, so there are tons of ways we can work with patients. We can sing songs together, practice relaxation, write songs, or listen to whatever their favorite music might be.”


This conversation is based on several real ones I have held while working in a medical setting — and yes, most of them have been under 30 seconds in an elevator. The goal is to explain the importance of music therapy without overloading someone with too much information. However, I naturally modify this spiel for medical professional:

[MT] “Hello, I’m a music therapist here in the hospital. Do you have any patients who may benefit from music therapy today?”

[RN] “I don’t think so. What’s music therapy?”

[MT] “Music therapy is an evidence based practice where a board-certified music therapist uses music to address non-musical goals such as relieving stress or anxiety, treating depressive symptoms, providing comfort, increasing self-expression, or assisting with motor movements.”


When we explain music therapy to someone who is part of a treatment team, the use of technical language demonstrates expertise and professionalism. Using the terms “board-certified” and “evidence-based” becomes much more important in this scenario as it establishes credibility within the healthcare field. 


We may also find ourselves advocating for music therapy to the client or patient themselves. This interaction is vastly different from those with both elevator-goers and healthcare professionals because it varies greatly depending on the patient and circumstances. Sometimes, the elevator spiel will do the trick. Other times, it requires a more in-depth conversation or even an example. In no way should we attempt to coerce the patient into receiving music therapy treatment.  Instead, we can show them how we could use it to benefit them as an individual. For example, with their consent, we can provide a brief intervention , which allows them to experience music therapy and decide if it’s a treatment method that they would like to continue.


Other Ways of Advocating for Music Therapy

In my experience as an intern at MusicWorx, other ways of advocating for music therapy include tabeling, attending events, and providing demonstrations. We discover opportunities to meet other people working in health and wellness with whom we can later co-treat or collaborate. We also inform the general public and community about what music therapy is and how it could potentially benefit them or their loved ones. Local events can offer a great opportunity to connect and advocate for music therapy services.


While at MusicWorx, I have also assisted in facilitation demonstrations, which provide a hands-on experience for members of the community and can offer a more in-depth understanding of specific services music therapy can provide. Community-based advocacy in the music therapy field is helpful due to the specificity of the services we provide and the common misunderstanding of what music therapy is.


Continuing Advocacy

Although the music therapy field continues to expand, advocating will likely always be a large part of our job. While advocating can act as a form of education and outreach, it can also be an opportunity to meet and connect with others in the community. I personally love the chance to advocate for music therapy because I enjoy speaking about the field of work I am so passionate about. Although in a perfect world music therapy would be as broadly known as any other form of therapy, we are given the unique opportunity and gift to speak about and share what we love doing.


Further Reading

A Collection of Jewish Resources

A Personal Journey of Countertransference


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