Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Being a Mindful Community of Client Advocacy: Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month

Music Therapists: Being a Mindful Community of Client Advocacy

    Every January, there is an Advocacy Month for Music Therapy in Social Media that the Regulatory Affairs Board within the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) help to coordinate. With that, a theme is suggested and bloggers within the music therapy community are encouraged to write about advocacy issues in music therapy. The 2017 theme is: Your Guide to Advocacy Zen. CBMT encourages us to share the following: 

"Advocacy can help open doors, produce opportunities for growth, expand your horizons, and grow your personal and professional network. Advocacy is also not without its challenges. Over the course of the past decade, music therapists have been faced with responding to misinformed, potentially damaging comments that can serve to undermine the profession and services we provide, all while striving to continue moving forward with advocacy efforts that make a positive difference. These negative exchanges can lead to feelings of frustration, anger, and stress, and serve to potentially distract us from focusing on our clients and our work.

     In light of the contentiousness that seems to surround legislative and policy issues, we propose incorporating a spirit of mindfulness to advocacy efforts. Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. This requires an awareness of our attitudes, feelings, thoughts, and actions; an understanding of how they impact our experiences and behaviors; and a willingness to take responsibility for our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being."

     In today's world, advocacy takes on new meaning and importance. Music therapists are poised to be important voices as policy and legislation moves forward in the areas of healthcare and education. What role can we play? 

    As educators and supervisors, it is our responsibility to help students understand that caring for our clients does not end in the session room. It continues beyond, as we advocate for our clients when we see an injustice, or when there is some type of policy or legislation that may harm them and take away their rights. The therapist-client relationship is established and developed through trust and respect. Our students need to understand that our clients are individuals who need our support even when the treatment has come to an end. Sometimes, we must be the voice for those without one.

   As professionals, it is our responsibility to be a proactive and coherent voice of reason, as well as one who is paying attention and aware of what is happening locally and at the state level, as well as within the national realm of healthcare and education. We are well-educated in the needs and supports needed to help our clients be successful and thriving, and we know that the diversity we see in our clients is a microcosm of the global picture. Diversity is not a political word. Advocacy does not need to be divisive. 

SMWC Music Therapy Students and Faculty:
Working toward being a mindful community of client advocates
     So, how does this connect to the theme of this year's Music Therapy Advocacy Month in Social Media related to mindfulness? The idea of "Mindfulness" is an important one in music therapy. As I sit with a client and we engage in music experiences, I am mindful of my own thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs as I am simultaneously trying to be open and mindful of my client's own experience. In order to be a better therapist, I must understand how my client is experiencing the music. It may be different from me. We might need or want different things from the music, but ultimately, the therapeutic relationship allows us to work together to create something meaningful. It is not always beautiful. It is not always pleasing to the ear. But, ultimately, it becomes something from which we both can draw from, learn from, and grow within as people. 

     As music therapists we are part of a diverse community of people from all walks of life. Our varied backgrounds, beliefs, and values allow us to enter into the multi-faceted worlds of our clients, meeting them in the music space where we see one another's humanity - and celebrate it. And so we must move into the diverse community around us and try to mindfully do the same, for this is the world in which both we, and our clients, live.

About the Author: Sharon R. Boyle is an Associate Professor of Music Therapy and been on faculty at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College since 2002. She is the Program Coordinator for the Undergraduate Music Therapy Program.

For more information about the SMWC Undergraduate Music Therapy and Music Therapy Equivalency-Campus programs, contact:
Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC (sboyle@smwc.edu) 

For more information about the SMWC Master of Arts in Music Therapy program, contact:
Dr. Tracy Richardson, MT-BC (trichardson@smwc.edu)                                                 

For more information about the SMWC Music Therapy Equivalency-Distance (MTED) program, contact: 
Larisa McHugh, MA, MT-BC (lmchugh@smwc.edu)