Thursday, January 31, 2013

Advocacy Through Teaching: An Educator's Perspective

Advocacy through Teaching

It is the last day of Social Media Advocacy Month in Music Therapy and I feel compelled to write one more post on the topic. I feel that as an educator, I am advocating through the students I teach. They move into the world and create their own music therapy stories, moving along in their own journey. I have been asked about what difference one music therapist can make in the world. The concept of a ripple in the pond comes to me, which I learned while reading about Navajo traditions and beliefs. When you toss a stone into a pool of water, ripples are created which continue long after the stone has fallen to the bottom.

I have had the privilege and honor of teaching and supervising music therapy students since the late ‘90’s. I have learned a lot from each student over the years – how to better articulate a concept, determine a definitive rationale for why I make certain clinical choices, better support what I say with solid research, and even how to better organize my thoughts when teaching. But I would say that I have learned much more over my years as an educator. I have learned:
  •  I do not have to know everything (whew!) and that I am always learning
  •  my students open me up to new perspectives in music therapy which I never would have   considered otherwise
  •  the importance of music for myself, beyond what it can do for others
  • I can renew my own passion for music and music therapy by creating music with my students and by delving into discussions with them
  •  the pride I feel for students as they move from new student into the professional music therapy world is palpable and awesome
  • my students have a well of insight which expand my own awareness
  • colleagues who are former students astound me with their transformation and, in return, teach me so much through their role as on-site supervisors, guest lecturers, their writing, and through their voice in our profession                                         
I asked a few graduates spanning the decade of my teaching at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College to share a meaningful moment in music therapy. One student, who is now a mother of three and not currently working as a music therapist, shared the following about a client she had when working as an MT-BC:

He would have little to say as we walked back to the music room, so we typically dove right into making music together.  He played the drum, keeping a very steady beat, while offering a "hi" when prompted.  He would chose an instrument to match how he was feeling and I would lead him into an instrumental improvisation (me on the piano), creating music to symbolize his current emotional state as well as how he would like to feel.  Our improvisations were so powerful.  His facial expressions, eye contact, body language, musical and verbal interaction all changed throughout our improvisation.  The music would begin as very heavy, dark, chaotic, driving and then little by little open up to something so beautiful and peaceful.  In the beginning, our improvisations were very predictable; this is what sad sounded like and this is what happy sounded like.  Over time, the music became more varied, more daring.  I think his daily experiences were very similar and his emotions, good and bad, were not explored.  Certain things made him mad and certain things made him happy.  Creating music, learning music, sharing music, experiencing music, allowed him to explore his emotions in new ways… More often than not, he would want to tell me about other boys in his class who were bullying him.  We would talk about his response to their bullying and whether or not it was the appropriate response.  He would choose a style of music and another improvisation would begin…

Another student, who returned to school to complete our equivalency program after many years as a performer, now works with adolescents with behavioral and emotional issues. She writes about the impact of music therapy on her ability to truly be present with another person:

What I love about music therapy is the language it has afforded me through which to speak of those parts of life that I believe are most profound- the healing of the wounds of the heart and soul. I now have the skills to identify and clarify what I see in the human being sitting in front of me who will nevertheless be a mystery and a wonder. In my work with psychiatric patients on an acute unit of a hospital I will only see a patient one time… What can I give? Where should I focus? I work with teens mostly and I was taught to trust: trust the skills, knowledge, the music, the other person. 

She goes on to write about how this translated with one particular client:

…when I met the patient I realized, no, that wasn't going to be the plan (songwriting plan for a group)… I did a 180 and found myself working almost entirely with a hand drum and other various percussion instruments to represent stages of de-escalation that he completely identified and chose. And what mature reflections he made too…So the drum was the voice, no fancy reflections here, I heard raw, safe energy, color coming into the flat expression, emotion emerging. And my soul rejoiced, secretly, my heart smiled quietly. Meeting a real person inside a shell – that's the gift music therapy gives. Now I have a language with which to meet someone without fear. And it makes a difference, oh what a difference. I have never been happier in my whole life because this is a profession that gives back!

It is meaningful to stop and think about all the people I have served as a music therapist, and the families who have been impacted. It is powerful for me to also think about each student I have taught who then carries forth the premise and principles about the role of music in human health and wellness, and how each student goes on to serve others within this positive framework in society. As a music therapist, I realize after so many years that the client who once wrote a song with me about hope through adversity actually created ripples that continue through me today. As a music therapy educator, I better understand that music therapy is not a “subject” I teach…it is truly a way of being, thinking, and engaging with the world. I am grateful to each student who has stepped into my classroom because it is through my students that I have truly expanded my own awareness about the importance of advocacy, and my own role in the process—I am seeing the big picture. I am now able to comprehend that while I am just one “stone” tossed into the world, the ripples that I started all those years ago when I sat in my first music therapy class continue on through the people I serve and teach. I am blessed that the ripples I create often move through waves of sound and beauty. I am motivated by the fact that I am creating “ripples” of GOOD which may continue impacting our global community by fulfilling our needs for hope and beauty, long after I am gone.
Boyle with colleague, Dr. Tracy Richardson

-Written by Sharon R. Boyle, Associate Professor of Music Therapy and Coordinator of the Undergraduate Music Therapy Program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

For more information about Music Therapy Advocacy, visit and read more about the SROP below:

What is the State Recognition Operational Plan and why is it important to music therapy?

 Sharon R. Boyle - SMWC faculty member
since 2002
Since 2005, the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists have collaborated on the State Recognition Operational Plan. The primary purpose of this plan is to get music therapy and our MT-BC credential recognized by individual states so that citizens can more easily access our services. The State Recognition Operational Plan is a national initiative being implemented jointly by CBMT and AMTA to obtain state recognition of music therapy and the MT-BC credential. This collaborative effort between AMTA Government Relations staff and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff provides guidance and technical support to state task forces throughout the country as groups of music therapists work toward recognition as defined by their particular state. To date, their work has resulted in over 35 active state task forces, 2 licensure bills passed in 2011, 1 licensure bill passed in 2012, and an estimated 7 bills being filed in 2013 that seek to create either title protection or a licensure for music therapy.


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