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Do Music Therapists “Own” Music?

by Kimberly on June 29, 2011 · 31 comments

I received an awesome comment from Maven reader Brid this week. He wrote:

Hi Kimberly, I’m perusing your site with particular interest at the moment. I’m actually a ‘nearly’ graduated occupational therapy student (just three weeks from the finish line!) and I’m also a keen musician – I have a MA in performance and a lifetime of playing, composing, performing and teaching.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on other disciplines using music as part of their therapy – is this something you support (given the therapeutic value of music) or do you feel other disciplines would muck it up without specialized training?

I’m currently running a music group with clients with enduring mental illness – I’m running it with a social/skills building/therapeutic slant, letting the participants experience a number of different aspects of music (thus far active listening, relaxation, singing, waltzing, hand jiving, exercising and talking about music). I suppose my goal is for the participants to experience music, to realize that music is for everyone, to develop skills like attention, memory and coordination and perhaps to encourage them to consciously include music in their everyday lives. I’m almost a qualified occupational therapist and believe that the sessions are benefiting clients – the hand jiving session was wonderful fun – totally infectious!!

So I wonder how you (and others) as music therapists feel about OTs or SLTs or psychologists or nurses or doctors running music groups or using music as therapy?

Although I answered Brid in the comment section of that article, it’s a question worth an entire blog post. Brid is not the first person to ask whether music therapists are “okay” with other professionals using music in their work.

The short answer is: of course!!! Music therapists in no way “own” music. We understand the power of music and think it’s wonderful when other professionals incorporate it in to their work.

But does that mean those professionals are “doing music therapy.” Well…no.

When I run a music and exercise group, am I “doing OT” or “doing PT” because I’m using many of the same exercises they use? No.

When I incorporate oral motor and respiratory exercises to strengthen the speech of an individual with Parkinson’s, does that mean I’m “doing speech therapy?” No.

And when I use active listening techniques when facilitating a group therapy session, does that mean I’m “doing counseling?” Absolutely not.

So…then what’s the difference?

The difference is that each professional listed above is trained to follow and adhere to a Scope of Practice and a Code of Ethics for their field. We have a deep understanding of the theory behind our practice, of what works and why it works, and how to best incorporate it in various situations.

In the case of music therapists, we have a solid foundation in music playing, music theory, composition, improvisation, and music psychology. In addition, we are trained in psychology and the sciences and learn how our brains and bodies respond to music and rhythm.

A music therapist not only understands the art of music as therapy…but also the science of it. And we can do amazing things with that knowledge.

I welcome anyone who–as long as they are working within their own training and scope of practice–uses music in their health, healing, and educational work. I say this with an understanding and a guarantee that how they use music won’t match what a board-certified music therapist can do.


{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Davis June 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Yes, I DO mind when other professionals use music in their therapy sessions without a music therapist as a co-therapist. You will never catch me building a splint, administering or prescribing medication,taking somebody’s blood pressure, or a myriad of other things I am not trained to do. It bothers me that other therapists, and yes, particularly OTs feel that they are trained to use music in their sessions. I just had this discussion with an OTR recently who decided she was going to “teach” the trombone to a mutual client of ours with autism as part of his SI menu. Really????Never bothered to consult with me. BTW her lessons consisted of him blowing as hard as he could through the mouthpiece. The trombone (which had been a decent instrument) was banged up because she did not even know how to put it together!This blurring of lines can and WILL cause loss of jobs/work for music therapists. I have been a music therapist for 31 years, I have seen it happen. Why should they pay for your services if the OT is using music already? Many administrators don’t see the difference. I say “OTs stay out of our kitchen and I promise to stay out of yours”.

Rachelle Norman June 29, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Great post! I agree that it is important for music therapists to acknowledge that we aren’t the only ones who use music therapeutically. Thinking of this in terms of scope of practice is helpful because sometimes other professionals’ scopes of practice overlap with ours. We share techniques with other professionals, too – I encourage particular patterns of gross motor movement with clients but would never call this PT. I also use counseling techniques, but I am not a counselor. We should be serving as resources and partners in co-treatment, though. Nancy’s trombone story demonstrates that clearly.

Kimberly June 30, 2011 at 9:55 am

@Nancy I think you and I are actually in agreement. The examples you gave (e.g. splints, medication, etc.) are all things that are outside of an MT-BCs Scope of Practice…therefore, it would be unethical for us to do those. For me, as long as the professional is working within their scope–and doesn’t call what they do “music therapy”–I am perfectly comfortable with them using music and see nothing wrong with it. How they use music will be different than how I, as a trained music therapist, use music. Now, it sounds like that OTR was NOT working within her scope–she should have stuck with a kazoo or something since it seems from your story she was not at all qualified to use that trombone. I would have been frustrated, too! ~Kimberly

Kat Fulton July 5, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Nice post and clarification! – This can be a sensitive topic! I usually go the route of ease and welcome. I’m fairly confident that my clients and potential clients understand my expertise, so I love it when they join in or offer their own music in a supportive way.

At the same time I can understand Nancy’s frustration with the trombone. We are always educating.

I loved the clarity in application to other professions that you wrote about here, Kim!
.-= Kat Fulton´s last blog ..What Do Older Adults Really Want? =-.

Kimberly July 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

Thanks, Kat! This can be a sensitive topic for all parties and I think how we feel about it depends in large part on our experiences. ~Kimberly

Tamara G. Suttle July 6, 2011 at 10:31 am

I certainly get why Nancy would be so insensed by her OT colleague’s actions. They were unprofessional and a bit clueless, too, it seems. However, if administrators and organizations are not understanding either the difference between MTs and OTs OR they are not recognizing the value of hiring board certified music therapists, then I believe that is not the fault of OT’s or any other discipline. That is fault of music therapists.

( Don’t flog me yet . . . !) Here’s why I say that . . . . It would be nice but it is not the job of your colleagues outside of music therapy to educate the public (and potential hiring institutions) about the benefits of music therapy. That is the job of an MT and your professional associations. No one else can (or probably will) do that for you. Nor should you want them to . . . . You are the ones who know your training, qualifications, credentials and the research that supports your work better than anyone else. The rest of us would just offer a surface explanation of what you know in depth.

As a Licensed Professional Counselor who is not a music therapist, I appreciate you taking the time to write this post. I would never describe myself as having the training / experience / identity of a music therapist. I certainly appreciate what you do and the training and wisdom that you bring to your work.

I often encourage clients to find solace and comfort in music; I sometimes encourage them to use music to relax and have fun; I suggest to some clients that using music is a way to connect with uncomfortable feelings; I use improvisational “games and activities” to support team building or to highlight particular takeaways in trainings that I provide; likewise, I use similar musical exercises when conducting in Playback Theatre and Theatre of Oppression; and, I often suggest that writing music can be a great way to express feelings. But, no one would ever describe what I am doing as music therapy. Music is just the tool.

In my non-MT way of thinking, music is just another language to be used by anyone – like French or painting or dance. I understand that there are many ways to help any given client achieve his / her goals – through traditional counseling, through music or art therapy, etc. And, each well-trained professional from his / her own discipline will bring a unique way of strategically doing the work at hand.
.-= Tamara G. Suttle´s last blog ..WOW On The Web (Series) – Of Course You Can! =-.

Nancy Davis July 6, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Well Tamara, please let me be the one to educate you. In my opinion, the way you are utilizing music in your therapy sessions is outside your scope of practice and you are not qualified to do it , no matter what you label it. If you feel that your clients would benefit from such techniques you should be referring them to a Board Certified Music Therapist.

Yes, music is the tool. And it is a powerful tool that needs to be used by someone who is trained to do so. In actuality,you are no different than the OTR offering up trombone lessons without any knowledge or training. Do you consult with a music therapist before using these techniques in your professional therapy sessions?

Music therapists have too often sacrificed our uniqueness and our power which is the music to other therapists just to keep the peace and play nice. The way that Tamara is using music in her sessions is a perfect example, she is not just playing music on her iPod in the background of her therapy sessions. She is using music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. Does this sound familiar MTBCs?

We can (and do) educate other professions, administrators, and consumers of services but, in my opinion we need to stand up and defend what is ours. Otherwise
we have only ourselves to blame (as Tamara pointed out )when someone makes a statement like “music is just another language to be used by ANYONE-like French or painting or dance.”. Nancy Lenzen Davis,MT-BC

Tamara G. Suttle July 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Nancy, I’m not sure if I am understanding you correctly . . . . Are you saying that tools are proprietary? I do not provide music therapy for my clients any more than I provide massage therapy for my partner. While I would expect the general public to possibly confuse one for the other, I do expect a colleague to recognize the difference.

I do and have consulted with music therapists. And, I would still maintain that I am not a music therapist nor have I attempted to provide music therapy. What I have done is use a client’s interests or proclivities to pursue the goals of that client – often at that client’s request.

Simply having or using the tool i.e. music does not mean that music therapy has taken place, Nancy. And, I think you are shortchanging the body of work that constitutes music therapy if you believe that an “intervention” constitutes therapy.

I supervise new therapists that often confuse those two. They enter the clinical hour with their bag of tools . . . their therapeutic interventions and in the beginning they fall flat on their faces because they have failed to apply them within the theoretical context with which they were useful. In effect, they were bags of “tricks” that when used out of context provided a very different results.

I know very little about the theoretical constructs and strategies of music therapy. I wouldn’t have a clue how to use music to retrain a brain or teach a deaf child to talk. But what I do know is that if my client is interested in rap music and that is a way to engage him, build rapport with him, help him explore his own feelings and express his own experiences . . . that’s a tool that a good parent can use, a good teacher can use, and a good counselor can use. And, I do.

I don’t really think that you mean to be saying that music therapists should “own” the right to use music. But, I’m not sure where you are saying that line should exist. I’m happy to have this dialogue with you . . . . If we can’t figure out how to have these difficult conversations, then we can hardly expect our clients to do anything different.

And, thanks, Kimberly, for hosting our dialogue here. I appreciate you creating space for lively and necessary conversations.
.-= Tamara G. Suttle´s last blog ..WOW On The Web (Series) – Of Course You Can! =-.

Rachelle July 6, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Wow, this is a difficult topic, indeed. I think Tamara hit on two key points: first of all, music therapy is more than the techniques we use. We all know that simply handing someone a “relaxation CD” is not the same as providing music for relaxation live, composing or recording relaxation music according to individual needs, etc. Music therapists make all sorts of clinical decisions in planning for therapy sessions and in the moment as clients’ needs and responses dictate. Many (if not most) of these decisions are musically-based (e.g. tempo, key, song choice, accompaniment instrument/style). This clinical expertise is part of what defines us. Secondly, we do have our own theoretical foundations that help us determine what decisions to make. It is a bit tricky that a lot of the theories we learn in school are drawn at least in part from other fields – with some of these, it seems that our use of music techniques is the main thing that distinguishes us. This is why I find Aigen’s Music-Centered theory helpful: it gives us a bit more grounding in what makes us unique – the music. I know, then, that what I offer as a music therapist has a unique value – I just have to keep trying to explain those distinctions to the public.
.-= Rachelle´s last blog ..Song Spotlight: “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” =-.

Kimberly July 7, 2011 at 9:45 am

Thank you Tamara, Nancy, and Rachelle for this engaging dialogue. I personally stand by my original statement–that music therapists do not own music. Additionally, I still believe that how we as trained music therapists use music is different than how non-MTs use music. It is up to MTs to educate about the distinction (which all of you mentioned!) and I don’t think it diminishes our work at all. I feel our work as music therapists can easily hold up to the work of other professionals who use music as a tool. @Nancy I read Tamara’s examples differently. I don’t think she’s doing music interventions at all. I think she’s doing counseling interventions that use music–and some are just merely suggestions for her clients. @Rachelle Thank you for suggesting the Aigen book! I’ll need to add that to my “to read” list 🙂 What a thought-provoking discussion! ~Kimberly

Alyssa Wilkins July 7, 2011 at 10:05 am

This is a difficult topic to have, I agree. But as Tamara said it is necessary to discuss such delicate things. Now, I am only a Student Music Therapist earning my Undergraduate Degree, however, I am very drawn to Nancy’s argument. Tamara I don’t believe MT-BCs “own” their music, however, the examples that you gave in your first comment about “interventions” you are providing for your client are very similar to the type of interventions we provide in our MT sessions. I agree that interventions to not make a session, the whole point of a session is to take the raw state of the client that day and adapt everything you do to their current need. But interventions are the first things we learn as an MT, and as we adapt them for each client they are “ours”. Just like any intervention you do for your client or session you hold is “yours”.

Music Therapy is becoming a more widely accepted form of therapy and I know many people aren’t educated on the wondrous value of MT but it seems like you are. Every MT I know highly advocates for their profession to be known and recognized and the way you are going about using music undermines our abilities. As you said you don’t understand how what you are using would be used as music therapy. For the examples you gave, I believe, you are not doing any harm to your client or reversing what an MT-BC may be doing, but if we let all professionals use our basic interventions and they use them incorrectly they may be stunting a client’s progress or eliminating their desire to see an actually trained Music Therapist.

I agree, as has been said by many comment thus far, that other professionals using music can actually be an asset to MT-BCs because they see on a minor level how influential music can be. But I also think it is important that if they continue using interventions that they consult with an actual MT-BC to make sure that it is the best activity for the client, or even better refer them to an actual Music Therapist.

I think collaborative environments are the best answer to this problem. The more we educate others about the value of music AND Certified Music Therapists, the more they will understand what is within our scope of practice and theirs.


Tamara G. Suttle July 7, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Thanks for continuing the conversation here. I am happy to learn from each of you. Alyssa, I don’t necessarily think that one discipline can stake claim to all of their clinical interventions and I would certainly include the use of music among those. Perhaps you disagree?

For example, I would not choose to withhold active or reflective listening from your use. Nor would I ask you to refrain from using paradoxical intent or summarizing or even imagery or progressive relaxation. Those are all tools and interventions that I was trained to use and suspect that you, too, were trained to use at least some of them.

I actually do understand that music is a powerful tool in the hands of a music therapist. And, I also understand that music is a powerful tool in the hands of an untrained client. What I note as being different between the two is the strategic use of that tool in the hands of a music therapist. And, it’s that strategy (based on his / her training-experience-research) that is the distinguishing factor between the two.

Again, I can appreciate that a camera from 20//20 and the general public might not be able to distinguish between my use of a client’s interests in music as an adjunct to the therapy that I provide vs. a music therapist’s use of music with that same client. However, a music therapist’s use of music would be a core focus and a strategic focus that I would not have. Even if we chose the same music and just happened to provide the same directions . . . I believe there would be a difference in focus and clinical rationale – possibly with some overlap between the two. However, it is likely that there would be overlap between any of the disciplines of mental health – psychologists, social workers, counselors, addictions specialists, creative arts therapists, etc.

In my mind, the bigger hindrance to the growth and recognition of music therapists is not coming from within the mental health field. in fact, most of the non-MT professionals that I know, like me, welcome MTs on the scene. The difficulty shows up when the general public (housed in our institutions and community agencies) don’t know about or recognize the value in the body of work and professionals who provide music therapy. And, that, comes right back to a marketing issue.

As music therapists continue to accrue and present the growing body of literature that supports your work . . . and as music therapists are increasingly trained in the business of marketing (Did Kimberly say “advocacy?”) your work, these imaginary turf battles will give way to a greater presence in the work force. And, those of you that are most creative can, if you choose, pave the way for your colleagues by stepping outside of those institutional boxes and creating third spaces for your own businesses.

Kimberly, I’m in suicide prevention training all week next week. So if this dialogue continues, I’ll be stepping out for a week. But, I will be back! Thanks again . . . to all of you . . . for allowing my voice to join yours in this dialogue. It’s an important one for me to hear and consider . . . the implications for counseling as well as music therapy.
.-= Tamara G. Suttle´s last blog ..Un-Professional Photos Are Regrettable And They Last A Really LONG Time =-.

John July 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Wow, I did not know that music therapists owned music. Which music therapy association do I register my music with? That’s a joke by the way but one to bring perhaps a fresh perspective into this argument. First, I am not a music therapist. What I do as a day job required 130 credits of graduate work. just in case you might diminish my academic prowess. I am also not a professional musican but I write music and produce it.

Perhaps its old age but as my bones grow old I learn from mistakes, at least some of them. I am hoping that I might be able to help here at least a bit by teaching a it of what I have learned. There is a wonderful quote: “He who is not against us is for us”. Trust me, I am for you. I respect what music therapists do and I encourage all of you to further develop your profession. That being said, don’t be so quick to draw lines. Those lines become trenches that separate you from fruitful relationships with other disciplines. I recomend some reading “Zen and the Art of Motercycle Mainenance”. It’s about a Platonic dialogue “Phaedrus”. I am Catholic but the book is not really about Zen or motercycle maintenance. Trust me, read it, it might help to develop a broader understanding about what I mean about drawing lines.

I understand you wanting to protect turf but if you want to be taken seriously you have to believe that what you do is important and that you don’t really have to defend it. If something is of value it will sell itself. It may take time but people will begin to recognize it. The conferences you have and your communication within your community is a great thing. But realize that there are those out there like me who support what you do and are involved in some of the same things and that that does not make us the enemy. One of the reasons I found out about music thereapy and Kimberly (who by the way showed the most wisdom in her comments) is my interest in music and the brain.

A Zen Koan for you. Three men stand looking at a flag. One says: “The Flag is Moving”, the second: “The wind is moving”. But the 3rd: “The mind is moving”.

Hope that helps 🙂 And by the way, my music belongs to me and anyone who wishes to enjoy it even if it is theraputic for them 🙂 Shalom!

John July 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm

I just spent the last hour witting a brilliantly reasoned comment and for some reason my computer booted it. Perhaps simplicity is best. First, I have some highly recommended reading: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I am Catholic but the book is not about it’s title, no really. It’s about no letting the lines you draw somewhat arbitrarily define you. To quote another great book: “He who is not against us is for us”.

Cross the streams, break out of the box and don’t be so quick to define what you do as to become the walls that limit true progress.

3 men stand looking at a flag. One says, “the flag is moving”. Another says, no, “the wind is moving”. But the 3rd, “the mind is moving”.

Alyssa Wilkins July 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm

I agree with what everyone has been saying, and most importantly Kimberly. I do not believe we are trying to create turf wars, however, we are trying to establish domain over how we use music as a therapeutic medium. I am all for other professionals using music as a tool to help their clients, and a lot of MT strategies overlap with psychologists, counselors, etc. that you have mentioned. The issue comes when people who are untrained in how they are using the music whield their professional power. Tamara I was agreeing that you understand and support Music Therapy as John seems to as well, you are not the people I am concerned with.

In regards to promoting Music Therapy maybe I just live in a progressive area but not only is Music Therapy wildly known where I live, it is very well respected. Perhaps I am lucky because I am in the Neurologic Music Therapy field and the people I meet are well versed in how science and music go together. Every profession needs support to spread its powers, I don’t think we should be stifling music creativity in other domains of mental health, etc. but it is important that the lines of Music Therapy and Therapy involving music are not blurred.

Nancy Lenzen Davis,MT-BC July 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Tamara,first let me apologize for assuming anything. I should have asked first if you were consulting with or being supervised by a board certified music therapist. Since you say you do consult with an MT-BC, that makes a big difference in my opinion of your use of music in your sessions.

I never said that music belongs solely to music therapists. What I do say is that music therapy belongs to board certified music therapists. I will not EVER change my opinion that music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship (which,btw is THE terminology used in the very definition of MT on the AMTA website) should be used only by music therapists or under the direct supervision or consult with an MT-BC. I do not believe, as others here seem to, that as long as other professionals are not terming what they do as “music therapy” then any intervention they want to “borrow” is fine. It is not. Might I also add, I hold myself to that same standard.For example, I am not trained in GIM and I have had occasions where a client has asked me to do that with them. I have referred them to a trained GIM practitioner. Our clients/patients/students deserve to get what they pay for. It is what is right and ethical.

I was trained and educated by some of the finest individuals, music therapists and leaders in our profession at the University of Kansas. I have been a music therapist for 31 years. I have developed music therapy programs in four different states, I have been a member of the treatment team at private and state psych hospitals, private and state agencies for the developmentally disabled,in school districts, in nursing facilities, and in private homes. I never answered an ad for a position, I developed the position myself. I have been in private practice for the past 15 years and I have more referrals than I can handle. I do not have another dog in this fight. I am not looking to increase my caseload, market myself, my techniques, a book, a DVD, a CD, a website or any other money making venture. I just love, respect and believe in my chosen profession. I believe there IS a time to stand up and draw lines if it is important. If you can’t stand up and protect your life’s work, why bother doing it? I believe in the power of music. I believe that music therapists partnered with our governing bodies of AMTA and the CBMT are the line in the sand to keep the highest standard of practice and ethical codes intact and not be bullied, watered down or otherwise diminished by those who think “anybody” who can use an iPod is capable of using and understanding the power of music in a professional therapeutic relationship. They are not. This is not a petty turf war, this is our profession.

Tamara, you used the example of giving your partner a massage and exclaiming how of course this is not massage therapy. Agreed. But let me ask you this: Since you apparently know how to give a good back rub, under what circumstances would it be appropriate for you to give a massage to one of your clients/patients during a session? After all, everyone loves a good back rub, you wouldn’t be calling it massage therapy,they probably would ask you to do and it is just another tool you have available to you.


Tamara G. Suttle July 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Nancy, I suspect we agree on many more things than we disagree including parts of music therapy and counseling. I can appreciate your passion, your seasoned experiences, and your desire to protect both your profession and your clients. Thanks for the vigorous discussion!
.-= Tamara G. Suttle´s last blog ..5 Clinical Skills That Apply To Marketing Your Private Practice =-.

Here's an opinion. August 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I have my university degree and have played the piano my entire life. I have also likely outlived – in experience – every therapist who claims the necessity for a music therapy degree. All these qualification are utter rubbish. Those who have lived the experience – like brain injury/head injury – are MORE THAN QUALIFIED.

Here's an opinion. August 23, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Let me rephrase that: not “every” musical therapist, but certainly many. People who have real life experience are likely a bit threatening to the academic professional who cannot relate to the actual experience of their patients (vs. someone like me who has).

Kimberly August 30, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I appreciate your input and do agree that there is a lot of value to what personal experience can contribute. And there is definitely a great service that someone like you who is living with what you are living with can provide. However, trained music therapists are able to work with a wide variety of populations and on a wide variety of needs, from hospice to autism to medical to mental health to rehab to education…and more! Therefore, a certain level of training, not just as a musician, but as a therapist and a scientist as well, is absolutely necessary. If you’re interested in more information about what music therapy really can do, I invite you check out the American Music Therapy Association website at ~Kimberly

Cynthia December 19, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Often therapist do like music but few are not. Mostly, they do music to uplift their minds when it become to drain and also to release from burdom. I do like music when I do blog commenting to unwind my mind and insert words or phrase that is useful to your job.
Cynthia´s last blog post to get rid of stretch marks

Kimberly February 13, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Great Blog post – sorry I’m late to the party. I use this as a reference for 2 OT students who were questioning using music in their treatment plans.

Alan Kovin, M.S., LASAC April 18, 2014 at 7:18 am

We are in the process of creating the WholeLife Community, a community center that will be offering a wide variety of resources to the community-at-large and to the recovery community. Music related resources will be a significant part of our offerings that will include courses in music instruction, recording, and production. I have been a musician, teacher and master level addiction counselor for several years. In our recovery groups, we plan to utilize not only the fore-mentioned music classes, but also to utilize songwriting, lyric writing, drumming, music appreciation and even when capable, the formation of music ensembles. We are using music as a therapeutic tool, and do not feel that our already budget challenged programs require a ‘music therapist’ when this counselor actually has much more musical and counseling experience with our target population than most licensed music therapists do. However, we will not be inviting alzheimer patients or any other challenged clients outside of our experience for these same music therapeutic experiences. What I am getting at is that often times in therapeutic situations, either there is no black and white rules and/or, there is often evidence which offers viable alternatives, as in this case.

Kimberly April 23, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Hello Alan. Thank you for your comment. It sounds like you are providing a valuable service. As with any of us trained to work in the education and health care industry, it is our ethical responsibility to work within our training, experience, and scope of practice, which is sounds like you are doing. If you ever want to explore other ways music can be incorporated into your practice, I encourage you to reach out and consult with a board certified music therapist. You do not necessarily need to have a music therapist on staff, but it may enhance what you offer to have a music therapy-informed perspective. You can find us at Best of luck! ~Kimberly

Audrey Weiss January 29, 2015 at 8:56 pm

I have just read through this blog with much interest. I am a pediatric occupational therapist in a school who works with autistic children. I also happen to play the guitar and lead sing-a-longs with my students. I notice that as soon as I begin strumming chords on the guitar to a regular beat, I get my students attention, and better eye contact. They are then better at following directions –in this case, signing in to my group, and imitating gross and fine motor movements to music. All of these students receive occupational therapy and this OT music group addresses their OT goals including improving attention, eye-contact, and motor skills. I notice that singing songs also increases language output as well as social skills (two huge challenges for autistic children).
Sometimes we sing a made-up transition song to help students feel calm when transitioning from class to the therapy room. Is the way I use music “kosher” according to music therapists. I agree with John that “music” is not owned by anyone. It is as old as the hills, practically. I am very interested in increasing my knowledge of how OTs can use music to help reach therapeutic OT goals. Any suggestions?? Audrey

Bruce King January 31, 2015 at 10:58 am

Obviously, humans share the wide and deep personal convictions for the power of our own music. And carefully sharing with others how to use that power, lies at the essence of what we learn to do as therapists. Amazingly gifted amateur and professional musicians, and dedicated healers and teachers change lives every day through music. So, its perhaps shameful, even dangerous to summarily deny the existence of these individuals. Its impossible too, to deny that client harm exists in the assumption that letters listed after one’s name absolutely guarantees levels of safety and efficacy.

Persons with extraordinary capabilities can be seen in stadiums, street corners, bars, and shelters; as well as in churches, hospitals, universities, and corporate boards. Once identified (and we know who they are), they should be included, nurtured, and supported, with all efforts and resources shifted to safely get THAT person in front of THAT client in need. Also, a reciprocal teaching arrangement within today’s current cognitive/neurological/physiological/sociological/communicative/pyscho-centric music therapy university coursework would invigorate both state-of-the-art scientific study and results-oriented field-work.

Anyone calling what they do music therapy, however they spell it, should see the need to seek the absolute highest level of knowledge, and we as consumers, should also see the need and make it available for them. And, forgive the analogy, but to a person in crises, music in the hands of such an experienced and knowledgeable practitioner can be the difference between experiencing the power of a paper airplane and experiencing the power of the Space Shuttle.

mike July 25, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Wow so many arguments.I am a multi licensed occupational therapist for 2 decades already.My undergrad thesis in ot is about piano playing effectiveness in improving finger dexterity and fine coordination.I used music in ot bec everything we do as we call occupations falls under ot.but first I was a full pledge musician before I was an ot.I started playing the piano at age 4.I teach and play the piano , violin, guitar and we don’t have to argue.I seek to be a music therapist full pledge and they can’t take away my being an ot.psychology is a field as well as anatomy, music, physiology and we all have foundations as they are called applied sciences.who do you think wins?none.let’s collaborate and help each other instead.

mike alejandria July 25, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Wow so many arguments.I am a multi licensed occupational therapist for 2 decades already.My undergrad thesis in ot is about piano playing effectiveness in improving finger dexterity and fine coordination.I used music in ot bec everything we do as we call occupations falls under ot.but first I was a full pledge musician before I was an ot.I started playing the piano at age 4.I teach and play the piano , violin, guitar and we don’t have to argue.I seek to be a music therapist full pledge and they can’t take away my being an ot.psychology is a field as well as anatomy, music, physiology and we all have foundations as they are called applied sciences.who do you think wins?none.let’s collaborate and help each other instead.

Jorge Ochoa July 25, 2017 at 2:20 pm

I’m a a drummer/percussionist, occupational therapist, and group drumming facilitator. I use music to engage clients in the occupations of play and social participation. Music, of course, helps with the occupations of sleep/rest as well. I am really interested on how drumming encourages social-emotional skills. I, however, never say that I’m doing Music Therapy and correct clients when they do so.

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