Developing a New Program? Keep These 4 Things in Mind

by Kimberly on February 25, 2010 · 12 comments

Developing a new program is not easy. No matter how many times you start new programs, no matter how much you plan, no matter how prepared you feel…there will always be bumps in the road.

I’m now in the middle of getting a new music therapy program implemented. It’s not an entirely new program. If you remember from this article last fall, my first client, the Namaqua Center closed it’s residential treatment program. But Namaqua is part of a larger mental health agency. And there’s money still available to fund my services. So…we’re working to develop a new music therapy program within the larger agency.

So for the past 3 months I’ve been helping to get this new program implemented. It’s a lot of work and has it’s challenges. There are new people to work with, new facilities to use, new systems to implement.

The program is still in development. But there are things I try to remember to help with the process. I’d imagine they would generalize to other “program development” situations as well.

These 4 ideas will get you on the right track when developing your new program:

  1. Establish Lines of Communication. Growing up, the idea that “Communication is Key” was pounded into my head. It was one of the phrases mom would say that would make you groan…remember those? But those phrases that made you groan as a kid are some of the most important ones to remember as an adult. Developing a new program involves some major communication for everyone involved. You need to communicate with your boss/supervisor, your co-worker, and, in my case, other therapists and parents. Sometimes it involves meetings, other times phones calls and emails, and sometimes through flyers and memos. It’s like our digestive system. When everything’s flowing smoothly and consistently, your body’s happy. But once that flow is impeded (for any reason), your uncomfortable and in pain. Same with communication. If you keep those lines of communication open, flowing, and consistent, people will be happy.
  2. Create Systems and Processes. Some of the major questions that had to be addressed with our new program included: How are we going to get referrals? How are we going to document progress? How are the other therapist and I going to co-facilitate the sessions? The answers to these questions involved setting up a process, or system, for making sure these tasks get done. What are the steps you need to have lined up for that action to occur? What paperwork to you need to develop to help facilitate the process? The more you can think through and develop these processes BEFORE your new program start, the easier it will be for you.
  3. Expect Mistakes. Adapt Accordingly. Mistakes are going to happen. It’s okay. If you keep that in mind, and are willing to adapt and change as needed, you’ll save yourself a lot of stress. When we set the schedule for these new groups, we thought “Perfect! First group at 3pm. Second group at 4pm. That works with a school schedule, right?” Wrong. Turns out only 1 family could make the 3pm group and the other 6 families could make the 4pm group. Mistake on our part, which we correct in two ways: 1) we consolidated both groups to 4pm and 2) for the next series of groups, we’ll have a 4pm and a 5pm group. No matter how much you plan and think through the implementation, it won’t go perfectly. Expect that. Be flexible. Adapt accordingly.
  4. Give Yourself a Break. Ultimately, no matter how much you plan and prepare, things won’t always go quite right. Give yourself a break. It’s a bit scary to get new projects going. It’s easy to feel down when things don’t go quite right. Starting new programs is difficult. Do the best you can, keep trucking through, and eventually you’ll have a program that practically runs on it’s own.

If you have any other suggestions for kicking off new program, share it with other readers! Leave a comment below describing what’s helped you before.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachel February 25, 2010 at 11:02 am

Do you have ESP? I just had a meeting this morning with my principal and CEO about the music therapy internship program we’re working on getting off the ground. Thanks for the tips!
.-= Rachel´s last blog ..Slow and In Control =-.

Jennifer Sokira February 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Great tips! I really second the communication note— finding the right ways to get and stay in touch with the key players in the new program is a must….and can be a challenge! Thanks for your post!

Emily February 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Thanks for this post! i am just in the beginning stages of hopefully implementing a new program, and establishing those lines of communication has been difficult. Thanks for reminding me of their importance!

Kimberly February 26, 2010 at 10:00 pm

That’s great Rachel! Can’t wait to hear how this develops for you.~Kimberly

Kimberly February 26, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Emily and Jennifer–so glad this has helped you! I agree with both of you that the communication piece is SO important. It’s also basic and can make a huge difference in a program’s success. Good luck! ~Kimberly

Stephen May 13, 2010 at 1:14 pm

In the hospital setting I work in, one thing I’ve found to be quite helpful is to be seen and be noticed. For example, there are two routes I can take to the emergency department from my office, so I try to alternate the route I take each time so more people see the guy pushing the instrument cart with a guitar strapped to his back. I’ve found that being in my office around lunch time works well with my appointment and rounds schedule. Often I leave the door open and practice songs or instrumental repertoire during that time. Did I mention that my office is right by the dining room? Everyone that eats in the dining room eventually has to walk by my office, so my visibility is high. I plan on playing near the entrance to the dining room to become even more visible (and to get more music to staff), but I’m still polishing my repertoire 🙂

Do positive things to get noticed and be friendly to everyone in the facilities you work in. You’ll get more program support when people know who you are and realize what a fabulous personality you have!

Kimberly May 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Great tips! Thanks, Stephen:) Kimberly

Tamara G. Suttle June 2, 2011 at 11:28 am

Hi, Kimberly! I know that I’m jumping into this conversation a few months after your initial post. However, couldn’t read this without saying “thank you” for a terrific little list of to-do’s that apply to all of us eventually!

I’m happy to retweet your post and may link to it in my blog as well – it’s great info that addresses something that I am just now considering . . . pitching a Playback Theatre group to either the library or new hospital that is going up in town. You and Stephen both have given me food for thought!

So very glad to have found your post!

Kimberly June 3, 2011 at 6:33 am

@Tamara I’m so glad this will help you! Best of luck with your new program 🙂 ~Kimberly

Amanda Jones October 27, 2012 at 10:03 am

Hi Kimberly,

I accidently found your blog by Googling how to develop music therapy program. I am working with The Northern Virginia Opera Guild in developing an Opera Therapy Program for seniors which we are trying to raise money to adminster this program to senior centers in our community. I have been doing alot of reading about creativity and aging, especially two good articles, Monograph – Creativity Matters: Arts and Agining in America, by Americans for the Arts, and Creative Aging – The Golden Years Take Center Stage by Amanda Keil, and Creativity Matters, The Arts and Agining Toolkit. As well as lots of good articles on the web. I recognize the many bnefits of music therapy for dimentia and aged individuals but still not sure of how to start to develop an educational/interactive/therapuetic program for our seniors. Can you point me in right direction of where to find info or give me some good suggestions of how to develop a plan, lesson plans, curriculum, etc.? I have B.A> degree in Psychology and currently working on M.A. in Adult Education. I am an avid textile artist. Thanks so much. I love your Post!

Kimberly October 29, 2012 at 10:30 am

Hello Amanda, thanks for commenting! What I would recommend is that you contact a music therapist in your area and work with him or her on some ideas and guidance. You can find a music therapist through the Certification Board for Music Therapists at Good luck! ~Kimberly

Jenn August 26, 2015 at 10:26 am

Hi Kim,
I am starting to contract with a feeding and speech therapy clinic and I am having a hard time getting parents to sign up for music therapy. What can I do? How can I get referrals?


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