“The Evolution of a Music Therapist” by Kimber Batzel

Once again, Back Mountain Music Therapy is taking to the internet. The business has been busy and is looking to update. The owner (myself, Antoinette Morrison) has been busy working in schools, seeing private clientele, supervising at Marywood University and mentoring interns that have completed their academic work and are doing their mandatory internship hours before they can sit for their Board Certification exam. My current intern, Kimber Batzel, had an interview assignment for one of her therapy classes and asked to interview me. I kept this paper and thought I would use it on my blog. It is in some ways of a brief biography on myself and Music Therapy:


“I think there’s an inner drive for everybody out there” states Antoinette Morrison, a board certified music therapist, as she explains how childhood play often sets the foundation for what a person gravitates toward doing in their adult life. When this play is nurtured and developed, children are able to thrive as adults. In retrospect, it was her inner drive that eventually led her to become a Music Therapist. This paper depicts Antoinette Morrison’s journey in finding her calling in Music Therapy and how her introverted traits and relationship to music ultimately led her to this path.  In regards to her earliest childhood memories, Mrs. Morrison recounts events on her grandparents’ farm: the only girl and middle child among several rambunctious grandsons, she was incredibly introverted. While her male counterparts engaged in more rough-housing play, she would patiently sit and observe the cats that roamed the property, quietly waiting for the elusive animals to come to her so as not to scare them off. This event was perhaps, an early foreshadowing of her later nature as a music therapist – patience and gentle encouragement certainly go a long way in clinical work!   

A key thing to note, however, is her introverted tendencies were also encouraged: she recollects how her other, maternal grandfather seemed to appreciate the fact that at least one of his grandchildren was much more quiet and easy-going. Mrs. Morrison describes her maternal grandfather as “one of those people who could just pick up anything and play it.” He would often sit with her, playing his mandolin. Her parents, though non-musical themselves, recognized that she had a love for the piano at a very young age – since before she can remember, the young Antoinette gravitated toward the piano any time she saw one. These early events with music and with loved ones who encouraged her way of being set the stage for how she would later approach music later in life and ultimately as a therapist.

Although she did not find out about Music Therapy until her later teen development, Morrison recalls certain aspects of music that seemed to both aid her and at times challenge different aspects of her personality. She explains, “I was always very disciplined and focused. ” By the time she was in 7th grade, having played since age 5, she had already had several years of classical training on piano. Having already developed a strong musical foundation by this point, she was often sought after to accompany for school plays, recitals, and concerts. It was this sense of organization and discipline that enabled her to excel in this aspect of music. Although she never saw herself as a performer, she found joy and purpose in being the accompanist and support for those in the limelight.

Conversely, being very disciplined through classical training sometimes seemed to overpower a more hidden, creative side to her musicianship and personality. This creative side only surfaced in private, and much of the classic training Mrs. Morrison received provoked a sense of perfectionism and a need to please others. This ‘people pleasing’ tendency, she attests, while it was once a hindrance, she has leaned to use aspects of this in utilizing great strengths from being able to easily see what interests her clients in her clinical work. She explains, “I think that’s what makes me so good at being able to observe a kid on the spectrum and see why they are doing what they are doing, and follow and understand them.” Through this trait, she is able to better connect with her clients and understand what it is they need, rather than using it as a means of approval. Though this tendency could have had negative consequences, she was effectively able to heal and adapt with it over time and use it as an asset rather than letting it affect her therapeutic presence in a negative way.

Mrs. Morrison also explains how music itself served as a unifying force during her childhood. Growing up, both she and her brother were involved with music – she, the classically trained pianist, and he the improvising jazz musician. With two distinct musical disciplines, one would think that there would be a sibling rivalry of ‘my thing is better than your thing’. However, as both of them each had their own niche within the same realm, animosity was not present. Both understood their own skills/strengths while respecting the other person’s abilities as well. She recalls an event in high school in which their jazz band took a trip to Florida. She thought her brother should be the one to go, while he encouraged her to go instead. Both saw the value in the other musical discipline, and respected what each could bring to a situation. Music, no matter how different the style, could be a catalyst for connection with others.

When going to college, one of the challenges Mrs. Morrison recalls was the pressure to dual major in both Music Therapy and music education due to limited employment opportunity at the time. Instead of dual majoring, she stuck to music therapy only, knowing that while it would be harder to build herself as a therapist, this decision further grounded a sense of identity and purpose. Also, the decision to go headlong into music therapy alone made her more aware of the pitfalls of the educational system, and how much music therapists were truly needed. This defining moment enabled her to have a sense of hope for the future of the profession and a renewed confidence in herself in what she thought was possible, giving her a stronger voice and a new perspective.

Another challenge that shaped Mrs. Morrison’s personality and affinity for Music Therapy was learning how to improvise during her internship. As mentioned, she frequently experienced a need to be perfect at a young age. She explains, “I think Music Therapy really helped me relax some of the things that were ingrained in me.” Thus, she realized that while classical piano helped provide the necessary structure in musicianship, it contained a rigidity that contrasted the needed flexibility encompassing the Music Therapy process. Through learning how to improvise with clients, Mrs. Morrison was able to focus more on the client’s functioning instead of her own needs. In addition, improvising enabled her to expound upon the creativity that she typically kept hidden and realize that it’s okay to make mistakes within music, and by finding peace and realizing that that is where some of the really great creativity takes place – in the unforeseen. She says, “It’s such a freeing feeling knowing I’m going to be able to adapt while still not knowing what’s going to come through the door”. Becoming a Music Therapist ultimately provided a new perspective on how to view things and a sense of confidence in facing the unknowns that accompany life.

Although music permeates her life in all aspects, Mrs. Morrison also discusses how she uses music for fun and as a stress-reducer. She spoke about how before fully developing her career as a Music Therapist, her involvement with things such as a children’s’ church choir, allowed her to have some musical freedom that she typically didn’t get to explore with her classical training. She engages in passive listening as a form of enjoyment when in the car for long periods of time. This makes sense considering her more introverted nature. I was surprised to learn that although she surrounds herself with music in and out of her career, music itself has not become a source of contention for her – she still enjoys it. If anything, it appears to have embedded itself deeper into the fibers of her being as a person. When asked if she ever experiences a flow state with music –  a state of immense focus in which time feels suspended and the activity is both enjoyable and challenging – she indicated this happens almost all the time in sessions. While certain aspects of her profession can be stressful, it is never the music that induces that stress. Having an on-going positive relationship with music is imperative to a musician’s ability to effectively utilize it.

Everybody is meant to do something. This path through music has not only lead Antoinette Morrison to become a Music Therapist, but it has also shaped her to become much more sure of herself in speaking her own truth about the power and necessity of this amazing medium. It has allowed her to channel qualities of dedication and diligence while also providing opportunities for growth as she navigated two opposing musical worlds. “It took me a little longer to develop my career” she recalls. Still, just as in music – timing is everything.


– Kimber Batzel

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