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. 

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

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