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What to Do When Your Profession is Dissed

by Kimberly on August 29, 2013 · 4 comments

I love music therapy. I am fascinated with the science of it, the art of it, and the humanity of it. It’s intellectually and emotionally challenging and rewarding. I have chosen to make music therapy my life’s work. No matter what particular “job” I may be doing—Regulatory Affairs Associate, PhD student, Graduate Teaching Assistant, Clinician, Teacher—I am a Music Therapist.

So you can imagine that my feather’s get a little ruffled when I read that, according to the Autism Science Foundation, music therapy is a “psychological and behavioral non-evidenced-based treatment:”

Music Therapy: Music therapy aims to mitigate cognitive, behavioral, social, and sensory-motor impairments in individuals with ASD. Although music therapy may be rewarding for individuals with ASD, there is no strong scientific evidence for its efficacy in improving functioning. (underline added for emphasis)

My first reaction to statements like these is one of defensiveness. It’s that initial fight, flight, or freeze reaction our bodies have when it perceives a potential threat—even one of an intellectual nature.

But then I read it more closely and I realize a couple of things. One, as in most cases, people who make claims that music therapy “doesn’t work” haven’t done their homework. Either through ignorance, lack of experience, or an unwillingness to be open to new ideas, these naysayers do not understanding what music therapy really is.

They have not been there when a qualified practitioner used a low, soft, slowly-moving vocal line to help organize a neonate’s systems, regulating his or her heart rate and breathing.

They have not witnessed how a particular song can trigger a reaction in an older adult with late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease nor how the music therapist can then use that reaction to create a moment of real connectedness with loved ones who are present.

They have not seen how music can bridge the communication divide that commonly occurs with a child on the autism spectrum, thus starting the process of allowing that child to engage and communicate with others.

Two, in this particular instance, the Autism Science Foundation has a very narrow definition of what they consider “evidence-based practice.” In my understanding, the best form of evidence-based practice integrates the best available research with clinician experience and wisdom and client values. The Autism Science Foundation only utilizes one prong of that three prong approach: To be considered evidence-based, a treatment must be thoroughly investigated in multiple well-designed scientific studies and show measurable, sustained improvements in targeted areas.

Thus in my perspective it seems that the Autism Science Foundation not only has a narrow understanding of music therapy itself, but it has a narrow understanding of what it considers “evidence-based.”

Unfortunately, though, the problem is still here. So what is a music therapist to do then when faced with a situation like this?

Well we can get angry about it, griping and bemoaning the fact that we feel we are always justifying the work we do.

Or . . . we can view this as an opportunity to educate and share this wonderful passion we have with others. We can send letters. We can submit our own evidence (I know some of you out there have bibliographies on music therapy and autism). We can invite our clients to submit their testimonials and share how music therapy has helped their loved one.

We can choose to use these moments—these challenges—in a positive, proactive, and professional way. Each and every time.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Antoinette Morrison August 29, 2013 at 1:36 pm

I agree, however I must confess, when asked “so what do you do, play music to them?” I let out a long sigh, in my head.
Antoinette Morrison´s last blog post ..Responsibility and Freedom Look a lot Like Sensory Integration

Debi Kret August 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I share your passion for music therapy as well as the sadness and frustration when confronted by ignorance. As a profession, we have made so many strides over the last twenty years since I started practicing, and yet we still have a long way to go. Thank you Kimberly, for your eloquence and the great strides you have made for all of us.

Eunice Lee June 16, 2015 at 10:00 am

Thank you, Kimberly. I have found it very helpful to read your blog and know my seemingly isolated experiences are validated by others. I have heard other professionals share that “music therapy is not evidence-based” quite a few times based off of the exact quote you underlined from the Autism Science Foundation. What I say to defend the profession is often considered but also brushed off because a trusted source (ASF) has said otherwise. Sigh…

That being said, I have found articles to be seriously lacking when I need more information on a particular music therapy intervention (i.e. speech, fine motor) and I admit to get frustrated, too! I know there are dedicated MTBCs currently out there doing research. I hope we will witness a surge of new information in these next 10 years. I hope to contribute if I can find the funds…

Kimberly June 17, 2015 at 8:47 am

Glad to help, Eunice! Our profession is certainly not alone in needing to respond to opposition. The advocacy and research will never end—it’s not just about adding “more” research, but increasing the quality of the research and educating others about what “is” quality research (different people and groups have different ideas…) ~Kimberly

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