Monday, May 7, 2012

Interview: Music Therapist

Triogenius was lucky enough to speak to Amanda, who is a Music Therapist. Want to know more? Read on!
Name of school where you earned your degree:  I started my degree at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS and completed it at Maryville University in St. Louis, MO.
Major:  Music Therapy

How did you choose your major/career? 

 I knew from the moment I started singing that I wanted a career in music.  I think in my dreams I wanted to be a famous recording artist or a musical theatre actress on Broadway, but as I got older, I realized how hard it is to support yourself in either of those careers.  My high school voice teacher was a retired music therapist and she encouraged me to choose a career in music.  Music therapy was a way to guarantee a marketable skill doing something that I really loved.

    Would you have done anything differently in college?

  I would have gone to class more often!  More so as a freshman/sophomore than a junior/senior, I didn’t really take college very seriously.  I regret that every day.  I was fortunate to not have it set me back as much as it could have, but I really began to learn the art of this profession when I stopped goofing off and started trying to learn.  I sometimes wonder how much more I would have honed some of my skills (especially guitar and piano) if I would have practiced more and skipped classes less.

  Describe how difficult you felt the coursework was. 

 The coursework for music therapy is deceptively difficult.  For starters, it is completely normal for the average music therapy student to be taking 18 or more credit hours a semester.  Several of those credit hours are for things like your music lessons or ensembles, but they involve a lot of commitment and preparation.  You can’t exactly “cram” for a vocal jury the same way you can for a final exam.  I remember thinking before I started that my classes would be “easy” because music is “fun.”  It’s a very different thing when you’re actually doing it.  In every course I took, every instructor made it seem like their homework was a top priority.  Learning how to prioritize myself (i.e. how much time to practice for voice lessons vs. how much time to study for my music theory exam) was probably the most difficult part of being a music student.

   Do you have advice for a student thinking about this career? 

Do it!  It’s such a rewarding field and a unique career path, you will absolutely love the work that you do.  I also think any student entering this field should consider postgraduate studies in addition to undergraduate music therapy coursework.  The direction that the profession is going is towards an entry-level Master’s program (similar to occupational therapy).  I will most likely go back to school and get a Master’s degree at some point so that I can keep up with the field.  It’s something that I didn’t want to think about as an undergraduate and I wish I would have.

  What was your first job when you graduated? How did you get where you are eventually, that is, the ‘path’ to your current position? 

 My current position is the position that I’ve held since I’ve graduated.  I work as a music therapist in a forensic psychiatric facility.  Originally, we were an acute care psychiatric facility who serviced clients who had little to no insurance.  At that time we would see adults with serious mental illnesses for an average length of stay of 14 days.  Now, we see clients who have been charged with crimes and then deemed “Incompetent to Stand Trial” with an average length of stay of 6 months.  It’s a much different job now, but it’s in the same building.

     When you were interviewed, did the employer want a transcript of your grades? 
 Absolutely.  When your degree is conferred, it is usually attached to your transcript, so when you provide proof of your degree, you’ll provide a transcript of grades.  So yes…they do matter!

     Was it difficult to find a job doing what you do? 

 That’s a difficult question to answer.  This is a very specialized field and I only held an interest in working with select populations, so I wasn’t willing to take just any job.  That said, when I was looking for a job right out of school, I actually ended up with two offers in similar settings.  However, I know people who work in jobs with this degree that are not technically “music therapy” positions, but are related to this field.

      What specifically do you do?

 I work as part of a multi-disciplinary team in the Rehabilitation Services department of my facility.  I take part in the implementation of treatment plans and assessment of all new clients that enter the facility.  I lead 3-4 therapeutic groups a week in which I use music to facilitate the goals we are working on in the various groups.

 What do you wish you knew about this career before you went for it? 

  I wish my professors would have pushed me to get my Master’s degree or at least expressed the importance of it for this field.

   What is the best part of your job? 

 It is so interesting.  Working in a health care field, I can’t share 95% of what goes on in my day, but I sure wish I could.  Maybe someday I’ll write an anonymous memoir.  Working with psychiatric patients is fascinating.

 What do you dislike about your job, if anything, or what is most difficult?

When clients are very symptomatic, they can be aggressive.  That can be really scary.  It’s very hard to walk onto the unit when you know one of your clients is liable to snap at any minute.  The moments like this are few and far between because I work with an amazing group of professionals, but you can’t really ever get comfortable here.  Mental illness also carries a horrible stigma and it is just so unfair.  People who live with mental illness are so very brave to do what they do every day.  Some people are tormented by the psychosis they live with, but I find society treats these patients with very little respect or compassion.  To me, making fun of an individual with schizophrenia is like making fun of someone for being diagnosed with breast cancer.  It’s a disease they will suffer with for the rest of their life and they did absolutely nothing to earn it.

 Are there other careers you can pursue with your major?

 Music therapy is pretty specialized, but your experience in a music therapy career can make you qualified in some related areas.  You can also start with a degree in music therapy and decide to advance your career in other fields.  One of my professors in college had a degree in music therapy, but had a doctorate in clinical psychology.  You can do a whole lot with that kind of educational background.

   Is there anything else you would want someone to know about this career?

 It is such a rewarding career.  You’re not going to be a millionaire choosing this career path – but you’re going to feel the wealth of the difference you can make in your clients’ lives.

Thanks, Amanda, for your great insights!

Stay tuned for future career interviews at Triogenius!

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