Therapeutic Relationships and Treatment Protocols: Can You Have It All?

by Kimberly on September 1, 2009 · 0 comments

Music therapists tend to specialize in a certain clinical area. Thus is makes sense that a board-certified music therapist can get advanced trainings and certifications beyond the MT-BC credential that help them work with certain clinical populations. Examples of available advanced trainings include:

I am trained (and am a strong believer) in Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT). It’s one of the reasons I came to Colorado State University for my Masters.

I spent three years as the Assistant Director of the Center for Biomedical Research in Music at Colorado State University. So for 3 years I was one of the persons in charge of planning, coordinating and facilitating the NMT trainings. Which gave me the very cool opportunity to meet hundreds of music therapists and healthcare professionals from around the world.

And it seemed to me that sometimes music therapists who attended these Training Institutes got confused. They would get so bogged down with the theory, science, and intervention techniques that it was hard for them to integrate the information with their therapeutic style. They thought you had to be a robot when working with clients. They worried that the therapeutic relationship we have with our clients is of little importance in the NMT way of thinking.

Au contraire…

I ran across this quote last week. It was written by Suzanne Oliver, a wonderful music therapist in Phoenix whose clinic, Neurologic Music Therapy Services of Arizona,  primarily treats children with autism.

Suzanne is an ardent believer and supporter of NMT. And her words below beautifully describe why she believes in the NMT treatment interventions and why a therapeutic relationship IS still important:

“(T)he beauty of the NMT model is the ability to reproduce outcomes. Yes, of course a therapeutic relationship will enhance any type of treatment provided, but in an evidence-based practice such as NMT, the interventions can be provided by any trained NMT. The therapeutic music experiences will vary based on each therapist’s creativity, musicianship, personality and way of interacting with the client, but the intervention results should not. We treat each other’s clients here in the clinic all the time and also do co-treatment together as well as co-treat with other NMTs. The ability to rely on a therapeutic relationship for treatment outcomes is a risky one in that consistency of treatment to obtain outcomes as quickly as possible seem to be the best focus. Our families love it here and understand the true value of NMT because when their therapist is sick or on vacation or whatever, someone else can see the child, pick up on their treatment protocol, talk with same lingo to the parents, etc. They too realize that relationship is important, but the treatment is what is the driving force for their being there and for payment of services as well.”

Now I realize that some music therapists will disagree with Suzanne’s words. They may feel that the relationship you have with your client is what defines the therapy and makes it work.

But that’s not good enough for me. Yes, as Suzanne wrote, a therapeutic relationship is important. But it’s not everything – that’s too much responsibility for one person. It can’t just be me and my professional relationship with a person that will change that person. That doesn’t make sense to me.

What makes sense is having interventions and treatment protocols that provide structure. As the therapist, you work within and around the structure, infusing your treatment with your personality and individualizing it for your client.

It’s like improvisation – improv is not “willy-nilly.” The musician is not “making up” the music. Instead, you have certain rules and techniques that provide structure you work within and around, changing and adapting as you see fit so you create the most beautiful music you can.

Having that structure allows other musicians to play with you.

And it allows other music therapists to work with your clients.

If you have thoughts on this, or if you feel I am missing an important point, please share them in the comment section below or email me. I look forward to hearing from you.


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