Monday, September 12, 2011

Meet SMWC Music Therapy Alum: Amber Leavitt

Amber (Finch) Leavitt '09, grew up in central New York and moved to the Chicago suburbs at the age of 14.  While attending Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Amber was involved in many clubs and organizations as well as musical ensembles and theater productions.  She was the president of the World Wide Woodsies and Mu Phi Epsilon, and Vice-President of the Music Therapy Club.  She received the LaVerne Jackson Memorial Music Therapy Scholarship from Mu Phi Epsilon and the Indiana State Music Therapy Student scholarship.  Amber graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Therapy and is currently pursuing her master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Antioch University New England as well as working on her Level II Guided Imagery and Music practicum from Anna Maria College.  Amber currently resides in South Royalton, VT with her husband.
How do you feel you were prepared for professional life by the SMWC Music Therapy program?

Life has tossed me some curve balls in the last few years, but I was well equipped to handle these issues because of the strong education and leadership qualities I gained from the SMWC Music Therapy program.  The undivided attention and real sense of commitment and caring I received from the professors of this program and throughout the school really boosted my confidence and enticed my appetite for learning and growing as a student into a professional.  Whether I am working as a music therapist or in an unrelated field, I find that I am always drawing on the skills I gained from this program and often seen by my coworkers and employers as a competent, professional and enthusiastic leader.

What year did you graduate from the Woods and where did you complete your internship?

I graduated in 2009 and completed my internship at Park Nicollet Heatlh Services in Minneapolis, MN. My internship served Hospice, Oncology and patients with Parkinson's Disease.

What drew you to music therapy and why did you stay at the Woods in music therapy? Were there challenges in this decision?

I will admit that my initial decision to study music therapy was based on my own ignorant perception of the profession. My basic vision was of music being used receptively in a counseling setting. When I entered the major as a freshman I was really taken aback by the varied uses of music and the depth of the profession. This was an extremely overwhelming revelation to me and I left the major for a couple years to do some “soul-searching.” In those few years, I toyed around with some other career options, but in my heart kept coming back to music therapy and decided to rejoin the major my senior year. This decision was rooted in my strong desire to help others with music and my new understanding and acceptance of the many directions and paths to be taken in the profession of music therapy.

What was your experience following your internship and as you moved into the professional world?

Following my music therapy internship, my husband and I were in line to join the Peace Corps. When this venture did not turn out as expected, we settled in my husband's home town in Vermont and have continued living here ever since. This transition was very rough for me. Vermont is a beautiful state with amazing people, but very little opportunity in the job market for music therapy. I have had a number of part-time jobs over the past few years, only one of which actually related to the field of music therapy. So, after living in Vermont for close to two years, I have taken the challenge of taking my career into my own hands by attending graduate school, Bonny Method of Guided Imagery in Music (BMGIM) training, and starting my own music therapy practice. All of these endeavors are in the preliminary stages, but I am hopeful for my future career.

How do you feel you have developed and grown since leaving the SMWC Music Therapy program?

Since graduating from SMWC, my interests within the music therapy field have really expanded and become my own. The SMWC Music Therapy program gave me a great foundation of coursework and clinical experience and introduced me to a number of different focuses within the field. The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM) was one of the areas I recall learning about and being fascinated by in my undergrad. I was encouraged and felt open to explore this realm and have since found this to be where I feel most comfortable in the music therapy field.  Without this broad, yet focused education that SMWC provided, I feel I would be unsure of my place within the field.

Why did you choose music therapy, and specifically, the SMWC Music Therapy program?

My belief in the power of music, my interests in the field of psychology and my strong desire to be in a helping profession are all reasons I decided to study music therapy. 

I chose to study at SMWC for a number of reasons.  I was instantly drawn to the school and the music therapy department because of the passion and dedication I sensed from the professors and students.  Also, it was important for me that I attend a small school where I could feel heard and valued, and the program gave me this opportunity.  Obtaining a well-rounded education was also extremely important.  There were endless ways within the school and the program to gain leadership skills and to grow both personally and professionally.  My decision to attend the SMWC Music Therapy program was a “no-brainer” and one of the best decisions I ever made.

What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the SMWC Music Therapy program, looking back as a graduate from a few years ago?

One of the greatest strengths of the SMWC program was the diverse clinical experience that students gain beginning in their freshman year.  Learning through experience was an extremely important component of becoming a music therapist and I believe I was well prepared professionally because of the hands-on nature of this program.

I also believe a great strength of the program was the collaborative feeling within the classroom.  The professors always encouraged dialogue and opinions of the students.  This provided a great learning environment and the ability to work with other students and professors closely.

Another strength of the program is the ongoing support from the school and professors.  During my internship and even years after graduating, I feel I still have the support of my professors and it is clear they truly care about their students, even when they are no longer in their classroom.

Have you worked as a music therapist? What other types of training and education have you obtained, or are you pursuing at this time? What are your future professional goals?

I have only held one music therapy position since graduating.  This position was at a continuing care community and I worked ten hours every other weekend as a music therapist on the memory care unit.  I really loved the position, but the hours were rough and with other commitments, I unfortunately could not make it work.

Despite not currently working as a music therapist, I still try to remain involved in the music community and music therapy world.  I am currently working on my imagery and music level II practicum, which I hope to complete next spring, and I will be attending graduate school shortly to pursue a Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree. Musically, I continue to teach and study voice and am currently working on a recital program which I will perform next spring.

In the future, I hope to obtain a counseling position that will also allow me to use my music therapy background.  Continuing to study the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music is also in my future and I am currently aspiring to use this work in a private setting.  I also hope to continue teaching voice lessons as well as performing and being as musically involved as I am able in my community.    

Do you feel you remain connected to the Woods, and specifically to the music therapy program and faculty? If so, how has this helped you as you moved into professional life and as you move toward your future goals?

The hardest part about leaving SMWC was the fear that I would no longer be connected to my friends and faculty members.  This has been anything but true.  Thanks to modern technology, I feel very connected to these people and they have provided support throughout my professional endeavors.  The music therapy faculty has been extremely present, whether I am in need of guidance or support in whatever I pursue.  This ongoing reassurance has been very helpful in my professional life, especially considering it is so easy to feel disconnected living in rural Vermont.  Without this support, I believe pursuing graduate school, my own private practice, and imagery and music training would have been very difficult.

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