Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The SMWC Music Therapy Graduate Program: Enduring Connections

In 2000, the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Master of Arts in Music Therapy (MAMT) program began. Since its inception, it has been a leader in providing both an accessible, yet challenging, graduate program. While other graduate programs have been developed over the past 18 years, SMWC was one of the first programs to utilize a hybrid format. With an emphasis on meeting the needs of working music therapists, the MAMT program utilizes short-term residencies, bringing students to campus three times a year for intensive courses taught by experts in the field. Each residency is followed by online work that further fosters learning and collaboration. Strong connections among peers are a benefit of the cohort model (each class moves through the program together to provide continuity). The focus on active music-making in the program helps foster relationships both inside and outside the classroom. Graduates from the program have gone on to be leaders in research, teaching, and clinical work. Dr. Tracy Richardson, Director of the MAMT Program and one of its developers, has even brought back some of the MAMT graduates to teach in the program. We interviewed some individuals who have a unique perspective on the program - one is a recent graduate, one is currently in the program, and one graduated ten years ago - to provide context about the program's impact on all who move through it.

Damian May, MA, MT-BC, received his Master of Arts in Music Therapy degree from SMWC in 2008. He works as a music therapist at Napa State Hospital in California and is also an adjunct music therapy instructor for SMWC in the Music Therapy Equivalency Distance (MTED) program.
Damian May, MA-MT-BC
What aspects still endure for you as you reflect on your time in the program? What has stayed with you?
I remember being challenged to take the concepts that I was learning, discussing, and reading about in the program and applying them directly in my work. As a relatively new music therapist at the time, it encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things with the patients I was working with... simultaneously, I was able to be bold and go out on "creative limbs", which was a benefit, I believe, to my patients. They sensed I was taking risks and they followed suit. I still remind myself of this regularly - to stay creative and try different approaches, look at situations and challenges from different perspectives in my work, and in life.What are some professional goals or accomplishments that have occurred since receiving your Master's degree from SMWC?

First, an ability to go deeper with my patients, to have a fuller understanding of music therapy and its implications beyond the broad undergraduate subject matter. Additionally, it opened up doors for me in the music therapy academic world, leading me to be an adjunct faculty member in the SMWC MTED program.

Which class(es) or professor(s) influenced you the most in terms of your professional development, goals, or other areas of growth?
I'd have to say a few that stood out to me include the World Music class taught by Carolyn Koebel and Advanced Improvisation and Composition taught by Dr. Alan Turry. World Music (in context of clinical work) opened my eyes even more to a myriad of new instruments, customs, and musical styles/forms that I was able to use with my patients...and expanded my openness and acceptance of new and different mindsets and cultures. I still occasionally use my Shruti box. Clinical Improvisation is a stand out in the sense that, while I felt I was always relatively comfortable improvising, I learned there is always more to work on and master. A few of the simple techniques that I learned through that class, have been a bedrock in my daily clinical practice, as well as my own use of music improvisation for self care.

Dana Kim, MA, MT-BC, graduated with her Master of Arts in Music Therapy degree from SMWC in December 2017. She is also the first student to complete both the Music Therapy Equivalency Distance (MTED) program and the MAMT program. She works at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Tennessee.

Dana Kim, MA, MT-BC

As you reflect back on your time in the MAMT program, what do you feel you gained both professionally and personally as you moved through the program, and now as an alum?
I experienced great personal and professional growth throughout the MAMT program.  The curriculum emphasizes personal reflection which allowed me to better understand my individual personality, and how that impacts my interpersonal relationships and work as a therapist.  Professionally, I feel much more confident in my work and better able to serve clients with complex needs and conditions.  As an alum, I am continuing to develop the professional skills I learned in the MAMT program and am finding new ways to implement them into my work.  I have also remained connected with my classmates and colleagues as we continue to support one another in our careers.

What do you already miss about being part of the MAMT program?
I miss the constant connection and support from colleagues and mentors.  The coursework also provided me with a steady stream of new techniques and ideas which I was able to directly implement into my music therapy practice.  Now, I have to be more mindful to seek out opportunities for connection and growth.

What has been the most beneficial aspect about obtaining your Master of Arts in Music Therapy degree from SMWC?
There have been so many benefits to obtaining my Master of Arts in Music Therapy degree from SMWC.  I feel much more confident in both my musical and therapeutic skills and have a better understanding of who I am as a therapist.  Obtaining my master’s degree has also allowed me to pursue additional leadership opportunities within the medical center in which I work and feel more proficient in mentoring music therapy students.

What advice would you give to others considering a master’s degree and who are looking for the right fit in a graduate program?
I think it is important to find the program that best fits your theoretical orientation, but that will also challenge you to grow and reflect your approach as a therapist.  Reviewing and prioritizing your career goals is helpful and can allow you to find the right program to best meet your individualized needs.  Asking alumni to share their personal experiences is beneficial as well.

What else would you like to say about your experience in the MAMT program?
I am very grateful for my experiences at the Woods and to all of the faculty and peers who supported me throughout the journey.  Alumni from the MAMT program are doing such meaningful work and making a great difference in many areas of the field.  It is inspiring to be part of such a special group.

Ginger Drake, MT-BC, is in her first year of the SMWC MAMT program and also recently completed the SMWC MTED program. She works at Hennepin Health, Hospice of the Twin Cities and at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minnesota. In addition, she is a Graduate Assistant for the MAMT Program. 
Ginger Drake, MT-BC
What helped you make the decision that the SMWC MAMT program was the right fit for you as you looked at graduate programs?

After a rewarding and successful completion of the MTED program, the decision was easy. I went into the MTED program knowing that I wanted to get my master's degree and it was a simple transition from one program to the other. The level of education and professionalism among the professors combined with the nature of the distance program was enough for me, I knew it would be a good fit.

How do you feel you have managed your career, personal life, and schoolwork so far?

This is not an easy program, managing a full time career as a new professional while still keeping up with homework and maintaining a personal life can definitely be challenging. It takes effective planning and time management to be successful, but I come from the generation of "you can do anything you set your mind to" and this program is no exception.  It may be difficult at times, but it can be done.

What have been your favorite aspects of being in this program?
I love the residencies. They are an integral and enjoyable component to the MAMT program that allows you to get to know your cohort and faculty in a way that would be completely lacking in a traditional distance program. Intense on-campus education mixed with fun music-making and social activities makes residencies my favorite aspect of the MAMT program.

What else would you like to say about your experience in the MAMT program at this point?
The MAMT program is challenging, intense, interesting, and rewarding.  The faculty is amazing, this program draws some of the best experts in the field!  Though this style of learning isn't for everyone, it can offer a unique opportunity for professionals who aren't able to move to a school to complete a campus program.  SMWC has done a really nice job designing this program.


If you are interested in learning more about our Master of Arts in Music Therapy program, visit our website or contact Dr. Tracy Richardson for more information!

Blog Post Author: Sharon R. Boyle, MM, MT-BC is Associate Professor of Music Therapy and Coordinator of the Undergraduate Music Therapy Program. Some of the interviews were conducted by Sarah Cary, Music Therapy Student Assistant. 

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