Music Therapy Advocacy Month, Changing A Life

Introduction: Advocacy –> Recognition –> Access

Since 2005, the American Music Therapy Association and the Certification Board for Music Therapists have collaborated on a State Recognition Operational Plan. The primary purpose of this plan is to get music therapy and our MT-BC credential recognized by individual states so that citizens can  more easily access our services. The AMTA Government Relations staff and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff provide guidance and technical support to state task forces throughout the country as they work towards state recognition. To date, their work has resulted in over 35 active state task forces, 2 licensure bills passed in 2011,1 licensure bill passed in 2012, and an estimated 7 bills being filed in 2013 that seek to create either tittle protection or a licensure for music therapy. This month, our focus is on YOU and on getting you excited about advocacy, so I thought I would start out the month by telling you about my very first client.

 After receiving a bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy, in order to take the certification exam, all music therapists are required to do an internship for approximately three months upon receiving the degree. I interned at a developmental center that trained in Nordoff-Robbins Improvisational Music Therapy. Being a classically trained pianist, I learned here how to improvise. Not only was I able to help my clients find a freedom from their restrictions, but I also found mine musically.

The first client who had not yet been seen by either my supervisor or any other interns was “William.” All the people in the developmental center had spent a major portion of their lives living there. Many were older people who had been there most of their life and had lived at a time in which much less was known about disabilities and were often “housed” instead of treated. “William”, however, was only 28 and nonverbal with autistic-like mannerisms. He was considered mentally handicapped. I was nervous after reading his records because “William” was described as having somewhat aggressive tendencies, such as hissing, spitting, and hitting. Any change seemed to bring about these behaviors. The music therapy room in that building was also in an empty hallway on the opposite side of the wall of his classroom, which did not soothe my worries.

“Follow the client” had been the mantra heard through college. So as I, the new person in “William’s” life, took “William” out of his routine to a new setting, I saw on the walk to the classroom the hissing, spitting, and hitting. These behaviors seemed to be more of a warning to me, one that I heeded.

“William” spent all of each and every day either shredding his socks in a very artistic manner or creating painting strokes with a paint brush and no paint up until that point. He always sat in the corner, away from other people. He never joined in, and warned anyone who got too close with his hissing, spitting, and hitting.

I began our sessions on the walk down the empty hallway, reflecting the hitting with clapping or tapping as “William” slapped objects. Once in the room, ‘William” set in the chair, positioned to shred his socks, but I did not go away. He continued to hit objects as I reflected this on the keyboard. This very quickly interested “William” and connected us. “William” was hitting or tapping objects closer in proximity to me, mainly to test how long I would keep this up. He picked up my foot and hit the bottom of my shoe lightly. When I reflected this musically, he began to laugh. “William’s” laugh, which sounded a bit like the laugh of the Disney character Goofy, put me at ease and made me laugh too.

I continued this form of communicating with “William” as he, quite amused, tested just how long I would keep this silliness up, always looking for something new and unusual to hit. At one point, he stood me up, put my hands on his hips, and demonstrated to me that he wanted me to do the famous chicken dance. he laughed hysterically as I complied.

The only bathroom in that part of the building was on the other side of the Music Therapy room, so staff frequently came through to use the facilities announced. “William” would then resume his sock-shredding position until they left.

My supervisor was in one time to observe me. He eventually got used to her sitting quietly in the corner and did his usual thing. Suddenly, I requested something, and clear as a bell, “William” announced, “No, I don’t want to do that.” When the session ended, my supervisor told me to ask his OT, who had worked him for seven years, if she had ever heard him speak. The answer was no.

I was never sure just how accurate ‘William’s” eyesight was. he never had am problem getting where he wanted to go, but his eyes were a little crossed and it was hard to tell if he was looking at you or not. However, he was beginning to show me a rhythmic form of tapping (communicating) which was becoming very successful. The team of therapists who worked with William were present for his annual meeting at which he also attended. he was talked about as if he did not understand. When it was my turn to contribute to the meeting, he began to subtly tap underneath the table and giggle. As I whispered to my supervisor, “I think he is talking to me”, I responded by doing the same. His subtle giggle turned into laughter.

It was later reported to me towards the end of my six months that as soon as “William” heard the piano music from the other side of the wall (my supervisor still used the room), he got up on his own, walked over to his peers, and joined them for the first time ever.

Part of my assignment was to choose one client and give a presentation to his team and classroom staff at the end of my internship. I had chosen “William” because he had never been seen for Music Therapy before. The timing of this presentation was perfect. His entire classroom’s staffing was being changed. None of these people knew “William.” Their first exposure to “William” was my presentation of his way of communicating with me.

During my last week at the developmental center, I passed “William’s” classroom on my way to a different room. “William” was in the middle of everyone, the center of attention. Smiles were on everyone’s faces as “William” giggled and tapped back and forth with one of the staff. “William’s” world of isolation had been transformed. Music Therapy allowed “William” to not only feel safe with others, but also to reach out to and enjoy playing with his staff and peers. The evidence that day was very visible. Everything that I had intuitively felt, thought, and sensed about Music Therapy and sought after was true. This was my passion, this was my freedom, and most of all, this is what I was meant to do.

Antoinette Morrison MT-BC


moyra duchenne

What a wow. In South Africa we are way behind as far as music therapy is concerned. I have been following your articles on Linkedin and have been really enjoying them. I am teaching in a classroom of 4/5 year olds with autism and how exciting it is. I use singing extensively and am trying to be brave enough to us more instruments. No-one really believes in the music. i was asked by one adult if they could use my drums as skittles. Keep writing and contributing You are an inspiration to us all, Compliments of the season Moyra Duchenne


Keep up your good work! It is hard for people to grasp here also, but as you know, effective. Thank you for reading, it’s comments like yours that are a real boost for me!

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