Sunday, June 7, 2015

Three Ways to Approach Learning Music Therapy Improvisation

There are many different definitions and descriptions of clinical music improvisation. In a nutshell, it refers to the process of the music therapist and client(s) relating to each other through spontaneous music-making with a clinical intention. According to Bruscia (1998), there are four primary methods of music therapy: 1) Composition, 2) Re-creative, 3) Receptive (Listening), and 4) Improvisation. Some music therapists may use improvisation in their work, but it may not be central to their work in the same way it may be for a music therapist trained in the Nordoff-Robbins music therapy approach.

At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the Master of Arts in Music Therapy program features an Advanced Improvisation and Composition course (taught by Dr. Alan Turry) and the undergraduate and equivalency music therapy programs also include clinical improvisation within the curriculum taught by music therapy faculty who have taken classes with Dr. Turry. The premise is that at the foundation of being a music therapist, we are musicians first. And, in order to utilize this wonderful modality effectively in a clinical setting, we need to be well-versed in how to improvise to be able to adapt music to the emotional environment of the individual or group (in addition to using music in other ways, per our  Professional Competencies). That being said, improvising can create unwelcome stress and anxiety among students (and professionals!) because it feels like venturing into the unknown, especially when learning. So, here are three ways to help music therapy students and professionals approach the process of learning how to improvise in a clinical setting.

SMWC music therapy students in improvisation class
Photo Credit: Sharon Boyle
1. Stay connected to your own music.
This seems so basic, but it is essential. Many times, music therapists (and students) lose touch with the very essence of why they pursued music as a career in the first place. We play music every day with clients (sometimes the same songs repeatedly) and soon music is something we only do as part of our job, disconnecting from it in our personal lives. When was the last time you sat down to learn a song you loved just to learn it--not just a song that can be used in a session? Learn a song that you enjoy and sing/play just for your own enjoyment.

2. Stop worrying about perfect, and start working to be authentic.
While we are taught about "striving for perfection" as musicians, it is important to understand that music therapy is about being real. Yes, we want to bring our best music offering to the table as a music therapist, but the most important aspect is being true to the moment, to the feeling, to what the client needs. We need to be genuine and our true selves, and sometimes that means that the music will not be "perfect". But, the music can still be meaningful. Judgment can stop us from even beginning the music process, and this also means keeping it from the client. If we worry so much about getting the music "perfect" in a session, then we may miss the opportunity to connect with a client through the music.

Photo Credit: Jillian Storm
3. Listen, listen, listen!
In order to be able to play in different styles of music, we must have heard it! It is so important to listen to all kinds of music and different artists as music therapists. First, it allows us to expand our awareness of different music which then expands what we can offer to our clients. Second, learning to listen to music helps us remember that music is meaningful to us...we can gain something from it as well as bringing it to our clients! Finally, the art of listening to music doesn't stay outside the session. We need to learn to intently listen to each client's music. When we listen, we can better respond and help engage with the client in a meaningful way within the music itself. We also can listen to be witness to their creative process, not just listen to respond.

So, put the fear aside and allow yourself the joy of creating music spontaneously! Work with music in this way on your own and then connect with others in group music improvisation. When you are able to experience the wonder of improvising musically, you can then carry this to others.

Resource:

Bruscia, K. (1998). Defining music therapy, 2nd edition. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
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Blog Author (Sharon R. Boyle)
For more information about the SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy and Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus programs, contact:
Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC (sboyle@smwc.edu) 

For more information about the SMWC Master of Arts in Music Therapy program, contact:
Dr. Tracy Richardson, MT-BC (trichardson@smwc.edu)                                                 
For more information about the SMWC Music Therapy Equivalency-Distance (MTED) program, contact: 
Larisa McHugh, MA, MT-BC (lmchugh@smwc.edu)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Trust the Process

slow down.
calm down.
Don’t worry.
don’t hurry.
trust the process.
-alexandra stoddard

This quote encapsulates what I often tell students as they move through the undergraduate music therapy program. So much of what occurs in today's world revolves around rushing, meeting timelines, the end product, hearing the results, and more. But, developing into a music therapy clinician takes a great deal of time and methodical process. Students may become frustrated when they struggle with a specific skill, wanting to be able to do it before they even begin trying. They want results immediately, but their mind and body just aren't ready yet. I want to encourage them to "slow down".

These frustrations are so evident in any musician's journey. Learning how to play an instrument or how to develop one's singing voice takes time. "Don't hurry", a music teacher may need to remind a student who races through a musical passage to get to the end. In order to have a nice "end product", musicians must live with the music before the music truly shines. Years of practice and effort, one skill building upon another...this is how a musician exists day to day. And it never ends. A musician moves through life working on another piece of music, refining another skill, preparing for another performance, and absorbing yet more understanding about a composer's intention. This is a way of life for a musician. 
Photo Credit: Sharon Boyle
And so it goes for music therapists. In addition to our musician journey, we are on a journey toward 'becoming' every day. Years of developing one skill to build on another, practicing so many different instruments and music, facing new issues which arise with our clients, learning new ways of documenting, learning again and again from the people we serve...this is how a music therapist exists from one day to the next. 

Again and again I tell my students to "trust the process" and to "trust the music", as well as the importance of trusting their own intuition and judgment. I have discussed the role and importance of silence in the music and within a session....the importance of just "being present" without always having to "do" something. And sometimes they just do not believe me. They struggle with the "not knowing" and sometimes the "not doing". I understand this because I was once a student who could not sit in silence and be okay with it. I struggled as they now struggle. So many students (not just in music therapy) worry about doing the right thing, or rather, not doing the wrong thing. "Calm down", I want to say, "trust the process". We can't just know how to do things which are new to us. This is not always a "right or wrong" issue. Working therapeutically with others, especially in music, is not "black or white" thinking. We live in the gray. We have to gain experience, and yes, even make mistakes along the way in order to learn, grow, and develop. In nature, the beauty around us emerges over time and often overcomes great adversity.

Yet, this "process" is an ambiguous thing...an unknown entity which escapes us when we are starting out as young music therapists. Even as a seasoned professional I can lose sight of it and get caught up in "doing", "accomplishing tasks", "rushing", and "stressing". That is when I, too, need to be reminded to:

SLOW DOWN. Take time.
CALM DOWN. Breathe.
DON’T WORRY. Relax...laugh...rest.
DON’T HURRY. Just be in the moment. Be mindful.
TRUST THE PROCESS. Yes. Trust.

In the weeks leading up to my students' final days of their final semester, I always take time to reflect on their journey, and my own journey with them. I have to smile at all the times I spoke some of the words above and they looked at me like I just don't understand. But, in those final days of the semester I might see them take a breath to calm themselves, be mindful and open in the moment, and trust the process during a session. In those moments I feel so much pride and I know they are ready to move forward into internship and their career. I then tell myself "Don't worry" as they will hopefully always continue learning and "becoming".
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Blog post author Sharon R. Boyle has been on faculty at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) since 2002.

Sharon R. Boyle

For more information about the SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy and Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus programs, contact:

Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC
(email) sboyle@smwc.edu 

For information about the SMWC Master of Arts in Music Therapy program, contact:
Dr. Tracy Richardson, MT-BC
(email) trichardson@smwc.edu.

For more information about the SMWC Music Therpay Equivalency-Distance (MTED) program, contact: 
Larisa McHugh, MA, MT-BC
(email) lmchugh@smwc.edu.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Are the Most Important Skills for a Music Therapist?

If you have heard of music therapy, but aren't sure exactly what it entails, then you are not alone. While the use of music in healing and health has been around for thousands of years in various cultures, it only began to develop into an organized profession in the United States during the mid-20th century. Typically, a prospective student may become interested in majoring in music therapy if they "love music" and "love to help people". These are important components of being a music therapist, but there are so many more aspects to music therapy work.


Here are a couple of things that I wish someone had told me when I first pursued music therapy as a profession:

1) Not only do you need to love music, you need to be a diversified musician. What I mean by this is that you need to be open to all kinds of music, be able to learn a lot of music styles, be knowledgeable in various genres in terms of era, culture, and more. Being a strong musician is key, but in ways that may be less familiar. For example, if a music therapist is working with an older adult and is playing a familiar "old standard" on guitar and the person is not responding, the music therapist may recall from the assessment process that this person responds best to piano. The music therapist then needs to be able to switch gears, sit down at the piano, and work from there. The music therapist may also need to adjust or vary the way the song is being played in order to better engage the client, such as accenting certain words, slowing down the tempo, changing the accompaniment, etc. 

How does a music therapist develop these skills, you may ask? Well, in addition to piano, guitar, voice, and percussion study, the music therapist needs to learn how to be adaptable in music. If you learn a song one way on one instrument that is great, but in music therapy work, it is important to be able to play the song numerous ways on different instruments. This may involve improvisation skills, composition or arranging skills, a foundation in repertoire, and a willingness to move outside conventional norms in music if needed. 

One of my favorite skills to practice is singing and playing from lead sheets and creating accompaniments, or just using chords/lyrics of current songs. I use websites like E-chords.com or Ultimate-Guitar.com  (this site also has a wonderful app that many music therapists use to catalog songs frequently used in sessions) and play songs on both guitar and piano, after also listening to an original recording of the song several times. When learning a song, it is important to listen to the bass line as well as the overall rhythmic structure to determine the meter and also the best accompaniment pattern which fits your abilities and skill, while still staying true to the song.

2) Loving to help people is essential as part of a "helping profession", but an essential skill set for music therapists related to this area includes: a) being self-aware, b) being emotionally stable and mature, and c) having strong interpersonal skills. I would add that being genuine and empathetic are essential as well, but if a, b, and c are not present, then neither will genuineness and true empathy.

How does a music therapist become self-aware? Music therapists can become more self-aware through their own personal work which may include therapy/counseling, clinical supervision, or both. If we are to work with other people to address issues which are impacting their overall health, it is essential that we become aware of our own issues which may "muddy the waters" of that work. Have you ever walked into a room after a really rough night of sleep, looked at everyone in the room and thought, "Wow. They look exhausted." Well, maybe they do, but it is possible that you just projected your own feeling of exhaustion on to everyone else. This can happen in therapy sessions on  many levels. This self-awareness and personal work will help to develop and maintain our emotional stability and maturity, allowing us to be more effective in working with those who need to tap into our resources for their own health and well-being. Interpersonal skills require us to be aware of how we are impacting those around us, our environment, and adjusting accordingly. It goes far beyond knowing how to greet someone and shake their hand upon an initial meeting. Interpersonal skills also include the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in various situations, as well as being present and listening effectively. These are often referred to as "people" skills. 

One of the most effective ways I have been able to develop my self-awareness is through receiving my own GIM sessions, working with a Fellow of the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery. The use of music combined with the imagery work was something I responded to very well and allowed me to really explore my patterns of behavior throughout my life which may not be serving me well as an adult. There are many other types of therapy, but if you are interested, you can find a qualified professional through the Association for Music and Imagery. 

What is clinical supervision? Clinical supervision is another way a music therapist can develop self-awareness, and a range of other skills. This is not "supervision" in the manner of your boss evaluating you for a raise, but rather involves working with a professional who is not directly tied to your own clinical work who can provide you with objective perspective on your clinical experiences. For example, you might mention in clinical supervision that you feel very disconnected when working with a particular individual in sessions. The professional you are receiving clinical supervision from may help you explore those feelings and if feasible, might use music to help you understand what is happening clinically to cause your disconnected feeling. It is also important to be open to feedback and be willing to admit that you need to make some changes to be a better therapist.

The work of a music therapist is rich with human connectivity and experiences. As you can see, music therapists need to always work toward developing the musician side and the clinician side of themselves. Receiving education and training through a solid academic music therapy program is essential to developing the foundation a student needs upon which to grow and develop into an effective music therapist.



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Blog post author Sharon R. Boyle has been on faculty at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) since 2002.

For more information about the SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy and Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus programs, contact:

Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC
Associate Professor of Music Therapy
Coordinator of Undergraduate Music Therapy
(email) sboyle@smwc.edu 
(phone) 812-535-5145



Monday, May 4, 2015

FAQs: Questions about Undergraduate Music Therapy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Interested in studying music therapy and wondering about the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy or the Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus (MTE-C) programs?

Below are answers to some common questions which will hopefully stimulate even more of a dialogue during first meetings and auditions or interviews!


Question #1: How long has Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) offered music therapy as a program of study?

SMWC started the undergraduate music therapy program in 1983, under the guidance of Dr. Laurette Bellamy, SP, who felt that music therapy truly fit the mission of the College. Concurrently, the Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus (MTE-C) program was offered since the music therapy coursework is aligned. The only difference is that the equivalency program is a non-degree program, similar to a teacher certification program, where students who possess a music degree complete the music therapy course requirements, practica and clinical internship requirements, and then sit for the board certification examination. In 2000, Dr. Tracy Richardson began the Master of Arts in Music Therapy (MAMT) program and in fall 2014, launched the Music Therapy Equivalency-Distance (MTE-D) program allowing individuals from all over the country to complete their music therapy equivalency via a hybrid format, similar to the model used in our graduate program.

Question #2: What do SMWC graduates do with a Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy degree?

They work as music therapists! To practice as a board-certified music therapist, individuals need to possess a bachelor's degree in music therapy (or an equivalency), have completed a minimum of 1,200 clinical training hours (both pre-internship practica and 6-month internship), and then passed the music therapy board certification exam, which is a national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Passing this examination leads to the credential of MT-BC (music therapist-board certified).

Some of our students may go on to graduate school or receive additional specialized training, while others may work under other job titles such as: creative arts therapist, expressive arts therapist, case manager, etc. But, a majority of our graduates work as music therapists, with some even starting their own private practice businesses and employing other music therapists as their companies expand!

Question #3: What makes the SMWC Music Therapy undergraduate program unique or special?

A majority of our students and graduates typically say that it is the faculty which make (or made) their experience as a music therapy student wonderful. Our students truly grow and transform during their time in the program as this recent Senior Reflection clearly articulates!

Other unique features of our program include:
  • In the past 10 years, our graduates have had a 100% job placement rate for those who have sought either part-time or full-time work as music therapists within 3 months of completing internship.
  • 99% of our graduates have passed the board certification examination on their first attempt since 2002.
  • Students begin their practicum placements in the 2nd semester of the program, with a developmental approach of observing/assisting-->co-facilitating-->primary facilitator. 
  • Practicum students receive group supervision 1x weekly in a classroom setting and also receive an additional 30 minutes of clinical supervision each week.
  • Students may complete an optional Intensive Music Therapy Practicum the summer after their junior year (or as approved by instructor)
  • Our program emphasizes clinical improvisation, so in addition to developing functional music skills on piano, voice, guitar, and percussion, students also learn how to improvise and compose songs in a clinical setting using both rhythm and tonal instruments in an intentional way.
  • We have small classes allowing faculty to focus on helping each student further develop interests such as special projects, in addition to musical and clinical skills. 




Question #4: What qualities and skills are you looking for in a prospective music therapy student?

Students who excel in our music therapy program possess the following qualities and skills:
  • Ability in, and affinity for, music
  • Emotional maturity and stability
  • Strong interpersonal and academic skills
  • Interest in a wide range of music styles and genres
  • Empathetic and compassionate nature
  • Desire to work within varied healthcare/educational settings
  • Dependable, professional, with good time management skills
  • Excitement for developing relationships with others through music 
High school students are encouraged to take piano in addition to their other applied instrument and to also volunteer in a variety of ways through school/church/other service organizations. In addition, if students can shadow/observe a music therapist working, they are more likely to understand their intended career choice!

Question #5: Are there scholarship opportunities?

Absolutely! Students need to audition in order to be accepted into the Department of Music and Theatre as a music major and at the time of audition, they are also eligible to be considered for music scholarships. For more information about our music scholarship opportunities, click here.

Hopefully the answers to these basic questions will help prospective students better understand what the SMWC Music Therapy program can offer as they move forward with their college applications.
SMWC Conservatory of Music
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Sharon R Boyle, Music Therapy faculty
For more information about the SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy and Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus programs, contact:

Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC
Associate Professor of Music Therapy
Coordinator of Undergraduate Music Therapy
(email) sboyle@smwc.edu 
(phone) 812-535-5145





Thursday, April 23, 2015

SMWC Music Therapy Senior Reflection: A Journey at the Woods

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important 
as what you become by achieving your goals.
Henry David Thoreau

I remember so clearly the first time I came to campus. It wasn’t the typical “Avenue Experience,” because it wasn’t the Avenue that captured my heart.  It was sitting in the President’s Room in Rooney Library that I had the moment. The fixed point in time where a future Woodsie decides that nowhere else could ever be good enough: the SMWC Madrigals came in and sang. They looked sharp. They sang in Norwegian. They radiated energy.  They sounded so, so good. I leaned over to my boyfriend and said “I’m coming here, and I’m getting in that group.”

Photo Credit: Beth Allard
That was my first brush with the musical soul of the Woods.
The SMWC Choirs at Lincoln Center in 2014

Over the next four years, I would find myself  immersed in an experience that is difficult to describe in words. My first semester, I delved into Jazz Band, having never played jazz piano (or in an instrumental ensemble) ever before.  Second semester, my dream came true and I was accepted into Madrigals. That happened to be the semester that Madrigals would prepare and perform a piece commissioned just for us- the beautiful and haunting La Providence by Sydney Guillaume. I had never sung in French before and was the youngest member in the ensemble. Amidst all of these “firsts,” I found encouragement and a challenge to grow at every turn.  I remember flopping down in my bed after practices, dizzy with stretched endurance and thrill. Every moment in Chorale, Madrigals, and Jazz band (which collectively took up four nights a week) showed me something about myself I did not know: I really, really loved being in ensembles. 

SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy Students 2012
Photo Credit: Beth Allard
Which brings me to the reason I’m here: Music Therapy.  If you asked freshman Beth why she chose music therapy, she would have said, “because I like music, and I want to help people.” Pretty solid answer for a kid who had no idea what they were getting involved in! Of two things I was very sure: I wanted my trade to be music and I did not want to perform (I have nearly fourteen years of solo performance experiences to my name, and I still feel about it the way I always have- It’s necessary. It’s healthy.  It’s also incredibly uncomfortable and a little terrifying to me). Music therapy drew me in because it felt like the perfect balance of all I wanted out of a career: solid musical core knowledge and skills, psychology, the ability to use my skills to enrich the lives of others- perfect.  On the other side of four years of music therapy education, I discovered the words that I didn’t have as a freshman:

Music therapy grows the connection of musical being to musical being.  It allows me to reach out to one of the most sacred and unique facets of another person, while also letting myself be touched as well.

It is that unspeakable musical connection that I see woven through all of the practicum experiences I have had the past four years. I have felt it when I’m holding the hand of an elderly woman with dementia, when I’m cheering on the successes of a client playing an instrument without any help, when a child lights up at the sound of their favorite song, when a young man in a hospital says it is the first time he’s felt at peace. I walk away from those sessions with this feeling that I cannot put into words. I was in a moment, with another human being, and we strangers allowed ourselves to take risks, express emotions, and share our most sacred musical selves with each other. Yes, I am studying to become a therapist. The nature of therapy means that I am providing help to someone; yet, I feel there is not enough talk in the therapy world about what the client gives back to the therapist. I have never believed that it is a hierarchy, but rather a connection. I may be bringing the clinical knowledge, the musical skills, hours of research and preparation, and the oh-so-intriguing bag of instruments, but sometimes, the client is bringing so much more. They are bringing themselves, and allowing me to be with them.  We each, whether client or therapist, take risks to be in the therapeutic moment together.  I don’t know how many times I have stood outside the door to a session, scared to death that I’m not prepared for what is waiting inside, or that I will make a mistake, or that I will look foolish. Never have I walked out of a session with those fears validated. It is always at my most afraid do I find myself the most supported and connected in a session.
Photo Credit: Beth Allard

I took this incredible Clinical Improvisation class junior year, and it was without a doubt one of the most influential, defining moments on my journey to becoming a music therapist. That class demanded that I meet and accept my musical self.  We learned all the skills needed to be solid musically, of course; but, it was not all about playing the right notes. It was about learning to just jump in and play. The first time I was asked to come to the piano and play something, I was terrified. What if I did it wrong? What if I looked stupid? What if nothing came out?? It took a semester of support and learning in that classroom with my peers and my professor to realize that I did not have to doubt myself. I do have the skills. I do have the ability. My musicality is there.  I was doubly blessed that semester with a practicum placement that centered nearly entirely on improvisation. The young man I worked with remains, to this day, one of the most vibrantly musical beings with whom I have had the privilege to work. It was in those sessions that I discovered how powerful spontaneous musical connections can be, and how little we really need words to communicate.  After that semester, I was convinced that I wanted to spend the rest of my career pursuing improvisation-based music therapy. I will admit that I was struggling with the transitions taking place in myself and my life as I entered this last semester of my undergraduate work. As time winds down, you begin to see all the things you have not done; and, my personality tends to lend me to fixating on such things. That’s why when my professor (Sharon Boyle) asked me to spend the semester photo-journaling my experiences, I jumped right in. I could sense that I was about to grow, and it knew it was something I would need to document. 

Photo Credit: Beth Alalrd

.... And grow I did, in some very unexpected, much needed ways! The development of my musical self has had a lasting impact on the growth that was happening in the rest of my life. It was as though, all at once, I became aware of myself: my gawky, nerdy, introverted self. Guess what? I liked who I found in there, shoved away under all of the stuff I thought I should be. I found connections between all of my eclectic passions and whims- the girl who is knee deep in library books about liberal arts education is the same girl in the practice room, or out in the woods. Writing, singing, playing, walking – they all stemmed from the same place. I started out by simply taking a walk outside every day. As I walked, I found myself taking to time notice the beautiful creation around me on this campus. I photographed, and I did a lot of praying. I grew closer to God out there underneath the pine trees, on the quiet roads alone at night or in the early morning. I realized how much time I spent looking down at the phone in my hand, or so caught up in my own little melodramas and stress. That awakening – caused by the simple act of walking and recording what I saw- had a lasting change on many aspects of my life. I wrote more. I read more. I asked more questions. I spent more time talking to professors and less time on Facebook. I started 'barefooting'. I took a horseback riding lesson. I improvised more. I talked less. I spent more time outside this semester than the previous seven combined.

Photo Credit: Beth Allard
SMWC MT 30th Anniversary Reception 2014
This leads me back to choosing music therapy as a major. I came to the Woods, and chose music therapy because I wanted to learn a trade, and get a good education. What happened in my four years here was that, and so much more. I spent four years under the supportive, caring guidance of my music faculty. They have seen it all- the little victories, the tears, the excitement, the struggles. I was challenged in and out of the classroom to discover myself. Through every course, every practicum, every choir rehearsal, every theory homework all-nighter, every new piece of repertoire, every scale, every recital, and every club meeting I was nurtured and grown. The hand of Providence led me to SMWC, to music therapy, because this is where I was meant to be. This is what I was meant to do. 

After all – there is no such beauty as where you belong.

Beth Allard
*Beth Allard, SMWC senior music therapy student, completes her coursework spring 2015 and plans to begin her music therapy internship in fall 2015 
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For more information about the Undergraduate (Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy) or the Music Therapy Equivalency Campus Programs, contact Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC, Associate Professor of Music Therapy:
 (812) 535-5145


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Student Elections for MTC


Congratulations to the Music Therapy Student Executive Board for 2015-2016:

President: Kelli Seida
Vice President: Devyn Burns
Treasurer: Nathan Mensah
Secretary: Jessie Bowen
Parliamentarian: Alli Payonk

Saturday, March 14, 2015

SMWC Music Therapy Faculty Spotlight: An Interview with Larisa McHugh

Larisa McHugh, MA, MT-BC, is the Coordinator of the Music Therapy Equivalency Distance (MTE-D) Program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. As an alum from the Master of Arts in Music Therapy (MAMT) Program, Larisa has a unique understanding of the Woods and has been a wonderful addition to the faculty. Music Therapy Student Assistant and Music Therapy Equivalency Campus (MTE-C) student Nathan Mensah recently interviewed Larisa for this special Faculty Spotlight Feature.
Pictured: Larisa McHugh, MA-MT-BC

Nathan:  Would you mind telling me a little bit about your background in music?

Larisa: Yeah, so I come from a pretty musical family. I picked up piano pretty early on and then in elementary school I started saxophone. Through high school I got involved in choir, so I spent quite a bit of time in music. And, it made sense...if you spend so much time in something, you might as well make it what you do right?

Nathan: Yes, absolutely! With that diverse background, when did you decide on music therapy?

Larisa: I think it was in high school when I made that decision- chase my dreams and become a soccer star (*laughs), or go into music. And there was a voice in my head that said, “You probably won’t make it very far in soccer”, so I decided to major in music. However, I did not know about music therapy when I set out. I would describe what I wanted to do at different schools and they would suggest creating a degree program or a double major, because they did not know about music therapy. So I started off in music education, and later transferred to a school that offered music therapy and I thought “oh my gosh, this is a real profession!”. This was not something I had to create- it exists! So I transferred after 2 years at Ohio State to a Music Therapy Program at University of Dayton. From there, I completed my internship and started working right away as a music therapist and soon after got my masters degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Nathan: Cool! That actually kind of leads to another question. What was your favorite part about being a student at the Woods?

Larisa: Oh my gosh, the connection. The connections I was able to make while a student at the Woods, not only with my cohort and the connections that I made with the wonderful professors, but the connections I was able to make with myself. Interpersonally and intrapersonally, I made connections that truly deepened my work. It brought everything together for me. I found a group of people I know I will be connected with for a long time. These are the most important friendships I’ve ever had, from my time at the Woods. I was able to connect who I was personally and professionally. There’s so much to be said about my time at the Woods, it is a very special place.

Nathan: Yes, it is!

Larisa: Yeah, everything just flowed together so that my work became part of my studies, and my studies were able to be completed in my work. It really helped to introduce me to new things and possibilities and set me on a path to continue to explore and to continue to deepen those connections that were made.

Nathan: You have a unique situation: You were a student at the Woods and now you are teaching at the Woods as well. What’s that like?


Larisa: It’s fantastic to be able to return to the Woods and to hopefully offer some of what was offered to me as a student to future music therapists. In a way, it’s giving back to the Woods and to the profession, and at the same time it is quite rewarding to witness the growth of the students, to see that light bulb go off for them. I’m really inspired by the work that they do and the sacrifices they are willing to make to become a music therapist- it’s great.

Nathan: Out of curiosity, what classes are you teaching (in the MTE-D program) right now?

Larisa: I’m supervising the Practicum courses, teach the Music Psychology course, and teach our Seminar course which covers ethics, reimbursement, and preparation for internship. And then I also supervise students in their internship.

Nathan: Nice! How long have you been teaching?

Larisa: The MTE-D Program started in 2012 [by Dr. Tracy Richardson], so I’ve been teaching at the Woods since 2012. Before that I had the privilege of supervising students in the Undergraduate Music Therapy Intensive Practicum course [in collaboration with Associate Professor Sharon R. Boyle], so I had some students from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods come out and spend 4-6 weeks during the summer for a practicum experience in the long term care facility where I worked at the time. That was great. I started working as a music therapist in, I think, 1996? And I began an internship program, supervised students, and taught as Adjunct Faculty at University of Dayton, and now at the Woods. In January, they made me the full-time Coordinator of the MTE-D Program.

Nathan: Congratulations!

Larisa: Thanks!

Nathan: These last two questions are a little more laid back: What type of things do you like to do outside of work?

Larisa: I have my furry little four-legged friends, I practice yoga, and I continue to make music just for fun. I love to garden and to cook. 

Nathan:  Last but not least,  and this might be challenging as a musician, but what’s your favorite song and artist right now?

Larisa: That is such a challenging question to answer! And it might be challenging for our clients as well, even those non-musicians...if I was stranded on an island, I can always go back to Gershwin, and “Rhapsody in Blue”- it always brings a smile. There’s a certain point in the piece where I always get goose bumps. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d always come back to that. But I enjoy many styles of music as a musician. 

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For more information about the Undergraduate (Bachelor of Science in Music Therapy) or the Music Therapy Equivalency Campus Programs, contact Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC, Associate Professor of Music Therapy:
 (812) 535-5145

For more information about the Master of Arts in Music Therapy (MAMT) Program, contact Dr. Tracy Richardson, MT-BC:

For more information about the Music Therapy Equivalency Distance Program, contact Larisa McHugh, MA, MT-BC: 
  • (812) 230-6662