Monday, February 20, 2012

Former Students Discuss the SMWC Music Therapy Equivalency Program

The SMWC Music Therapy Equivalency Campus Program provides an opportunity for men and women who have a degree in music or a related area to pursue study in the field of music therapy. The course of study is tailored to meet the needs of each person who attends, and completion of the Equivalency Campus program enables students to be eligible to take the board certification examination that leads to the MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified) credential.

Individuals who have pursued music therapy as a career through the SMWC Equivalency Campus program have had interesting and diverse paths prior to attending Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. After gaining a Master of Arts degree in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, Brenda Buchanan (’10) became excited about the career opportunities available in music therapy. Gloria Stearns-Bruner (’11) was a professional violinist for 20 years, and had always felt drawn to music’s healing powers. “At age 47 with 4 kids and an amazingly supportive husband, I left all my work and went back to school…with renewed inspiration and strength.” After spending several years as a music educator and Kindermusik teacher, Briana Priester (‘12) discovered her love for helping children with life skills through music. I knew that there was something bigger for me,” stated Priester.

Because of this valuable life experience that Equivalency Campus students bring to the classroom, the perspectives of traditional undergraduate students and instructors are enriched. “Sharing this learning with younger students was a great joy and there was a lot of exchange between us,” said Stearns-Bruner. “…I felt they valued my perspective.” Another aspect of the SMWC Equivalency Campus program is its nurturance of individual strengths and areas of need. “The time she [Sharon R. Boyle, Associate Professor and Coordinator of Undergraduate Music Therapy] took to attend to my individual skills and needs in field work was invaluable. Boyle taught with deep understanding and commitment to produce the best, well rounded, creative and skilled music therapists,” said Stearns-Bruner, “The focus on self-care and awareness has been a very important aspect of the program and I see now how that is the core of being able to work successfully and effectively.”

For Priester, the student-instructor interaction was of upmost importance to her academic success. “As an older student, being able to be in an actual classroom was really important. At home, I had distractions… [and] the life experience of your professors is more valuable than the price of gas it takes to get from home to school!” The student-centered approach of the music therapy faculty allows Equivalency students to take exactly the classes they need. As expressed by Buchanan, SMWC offered the required courses which allowed me to apply for an internship… and did not require me to take unnecessary classes in order to complete my program.”

Those who have recently completed the SMWC Music Therapy Equivalency Campus program hope to impact the field of music therapy, their clients, and their communities in a variety of ways. “I want to do research,” said Buchanan, “as there is much that needs to be researched in order to help music therapy gain wider acceptance.” Priester spoke about the role she hopes to play in the lives of her clients. “We are all human, created as individuals to impact the lives of those around us. It is my sincerest hope that I can enable those I work with to lead their lives with dignity and purpose.”

Reflecting on her desires now as a board certified music therapist, Stearns-Bruner considered her impact on the community and the role that her education at SMWC continues to play in that process. “I hope to offer my clients a new way of clarifying their strengths and their ability to heal and be well. I hope to influence the community in understanding music therapy as a cutting edge, yet ancient healing profession that…makes our community safer, stronger and healthier. Completion of the Equivalency program has given me a sense of competence, confidence, and openness which has enabled me to give life to these hopes. I highly recommend this program for its well balanced, professional, and inspiring instruction, the caring and openness of other students and of course the absolutely wonderful setting of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College. ”

Interested in pursuing music therapy through our Equivalency CAMPUS program*?

All Equivalency Campus prospective students must complete a special student status application form and request an audition and interview through the Department of Music and Theatre. For more information, contact Sharon R. Boyle, Associate Professor of Music Therapy and Coordinator of Undergraduate Music Therapy ( and visit to set up an audition/interview.

Advice from previous Campus Equivalency students:

“First, be very clear that there is support for [your] hard work, both at home and at work. It takes a huge commitment of time and energy…[but] I became closer to all my children and husband because of the vibrancy and groundedness I was experiencing in this new path.” - Gloria Stearns-Bruner (’11)

“You should plan to be flexible.” - Brenda Buchanan (’10)

“Take risks. You will grow and develop as you need to with the support of fellow students and professors…so allow yourself the time to evolve.” - Briana Priester (’12)

Interested in pursuing music therapy through an Equivalency DISTANCE program?

Beginning in August 2012, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Music Therapy Distance Equivalency program will launch. The distance format requires prospective students to already have a degree in music. Please contact Dr. Tracy Richardson, Associate Professor of Music Therapy ( and/or visit for more information.

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