Dungeons & Dragons & Music Therapy Advocacy

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Dungeons & Dragons & Music Therapy Advocacy

Did you know that March is Music Therapy Awareness Month?
Cool stuff!
Did you know that the idea of “advocating for my profession” makes me super duper uncomfortable?

Well, it does. And here we are.

March. Music Therapy Awareness Month.
Guess I should, like, advocate?

I mean, okay, I know it’s important!
There’s a lot of misinformation about Music Therapy out there, and it’s in the best interest of our current and future Clients – not to mention our brothers and sisters in therapeutic arms – that the general public is made aware of what exactly Music Therapy is, and what it isn’t. Music Therapy is an evidence-based (founded in research) practice, carried out by collegiate-program-educated, board-certified – and (depending on the State) licensed – health professionals, who are called “therapists” for a reason. Namely, that they are, in fact, trained therapists.
We know this, but a lot of people don’t yet. And that’s okay!
We’re learning and spreading awareness together.

I think what makes me hesitate when it comes to advocacy is that I never want to come across as confrontational, defensive, or – Heaven forbid – hostile. I don’t want to be throwing immediate correction in the face of some poor bystander whose only crime was uttering the words, “musical therapy.” And my people-pleasing self would rather let someone continue in misunderstanding than step on toes and “rock the boat,” as it were. I go to the extreme in thinking that advocacy is automatically aggressive in nature. (It’s not.)

If you’re a Music Therapist, maybe you struggle in the same way.

Or maybe you’re one of those gung-ho, shoot from the hip, neon signs and billboards advocators. If so, more power to you!

For the rest of us,
I hope this blog will be an encouragement.
There really is a positive, affirming way to spread awareness and excitement about Music Therapy.
And for me, a good method was put into words by a friend while playing “Dungeons & Dragons.” (Yes, I am a nerd, and I am proud.)

Us fighting Music Therapy misconceptions.

My friend, who was the “Dungeon Master” – the head honcho, if you will – said that, in a game of role playing and improvisation, everyone brings something new and interesting to the story. So his job as facilitator is to have an attitude of “Yes And,” rather than one of “No But.” In other words, agreeing – if possible – with what is brought to the table and helping the player make the most of it – without derailing the game. Then contributing something new to help create the best experience for the players.

In my head, I’ve been afraid of “No But” advocacy. (And rightly so.)

  • “No, Music Therapy is not lying on a couch and listening to smooth jazz for an hour to relax. Why would you think that?”
  • “No, I don’t just teach my Clients how to play instruments. Then I’d be a Music Teacher, obviously.”
  • “These plebeians have no clue what it is I do, and therefore I must educate them.”

Feels rude just to write these kinds of responses here.
So I’ve avoided advocacy altogether.

The truth is, most people I talk to about my job have a genuine curiosity. Their questions and initial thoughts about what sessions could look like are valid!“Yes And” advocacy acknowledges the validity of these initial thoughts while contributing new, expanded knowledge on the subject.

  • “Yes, music is so powerful as a tool to help ease anxiety and shift mood states! And actually, did you know that research shows it can be even more effective to use Client preferred music than just ‘easy listening’?”
  • “You’re right! Learning instruments is a great way to practice motor skills, increase breath support, improve cognitive function – that really touches on a lot of the non-musical goals we might be addressing with a Client! The main difference is that the end goal for our Therapy sessions are those non-musical objectives, whereas a music lesson focuses primarily on the knowledge and ability to play the instrument itself.”
  • “These folks have a good head-start in understanding Music Therapy. Let me help them learn even more about it.”

Now that’s positive and affirming, and educational!

There are certainly times when a person may be convinced of something factually inaccurate regarding Music Therapy. And there are times when people might be spreading misinformation or attempting to advertise themselves as “Music Therapists” without any training or certification. In these moments, correction is necessary. “No” is not a bad word. But for those genuinely interested folks who just want to understand, an attitude of “Yes And” can make Music Therapy advocacy an enriching experience for everyone involved.

Thank you, Dungeons & Dragons, for helping me to see advocacy in a new, positive light.

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT