January is Music Therapy Advocacy month! To help us advocate music therapy FOR our clients to increase the public’s access to services, let us ask: what is advocacy, and what is music therapy? How should we speak, why should we care, and who should speak up?
According to the AMTA/CBMT Advocacy Toolkit (available online for members), “An advocate is someone who tells a convincing story expressing a personal belief. Anyone can be a successful advocate regardless of experience or professional training. The most important attributes for an advocate are passion and commitment for a cause or idea. Successfully communicating that passion is advocacy.” It is a process that involves educating others about our field, identifying a real and meaningful problem, developing effective solutions, and engaging people in targeted action steps.
Music Therapy is the application of music and music interventions to improve non-musical, clinical outcomes through a relationship with a Music Therapist who is Board Certified (MT-BC). It is helpful to furnish examples of our profession, both in concise research findings and through insightful, emotional vignettes. Listen and learn your audience before rambling… you need to communicate in a way that will actually engage each individual person and make them care about our cause.
Music therapists speak as advocates FOR our clients. There are untrained clinicians using music with vulnerable populations that pose the possibility of doing real harm, despite good intentions, to populations such as premature infants in the NICU, patients depending on isolation control procedures, or Veterans working through post-traumatic stress. There are also many U.S. constituents who seek a qualified MT-BC, but cannot access services. For example, some school districts do not allow therapy services which are not licensed; though MT has rigorous credentialing criteria at the national level, states are accountable for licensure and only several have instituted licensure. Many other citizens simply cannot afford services, and third party reimbursement could make MT services possible.
To increase the public’s access to Music Therapy services, the general and political communities must be educated. Individual states must recognize the MT-BC credential. Every state has a unique culture and set of laws. State task forces are provided guidance, supporting materials, and technical support from AMTA Government Relations and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff, as part of the State Recognition Operational Plan. Since 2005, over 40 state-specific task forces are now educating their local legislators about our field, current obstacles, real solutions, and viable action steps. There have been a handful of state licensure bills passed, as well as certifications and registries, and an escalating frequency of grassroots advocacy efforts, organized hill days, letter writing campaigns, surveys, state fact sheets, and proposed legislation.
“None of these efforts would have been successful without the grassroots advocacy efforts of music therapists across the country. This month, our focus is on YOU and on getting you excited about advocacy.” Change begins here. We will join together to take meaningful action steps to advocate music therapy. Talk to your clients, your colleagues, your brothers and sisters. Discuss MT at the hospital, in your church, on a blog, and throughout social media. Contact your state task force, write letters to your local legislators, visit your representatives in person, and invite patients to testify in committees.
Discover a great list of participating blogs and podcasts while reading up on earlier Social Media Advocacy Months, such as last year when we were inspired by the 2015 Scope of Music Therapy Practice and focused on “how we convert challenges to advocacy opportunities.”