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 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 HURRY. Just be in the moment. Be mindful.

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".
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

For information about the SMWC Master of Arts in Music Therapy program, contact:
Dr. Tracy Richardson, MT-BC

For more information about the SMWC Music Therpay Equivalency-Distance (MTED) program, contact: 
Larisa McHugh, MA, MT-BC

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 or  (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.

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
(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

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
(phone) 812-535-5145