Family Planning as an MTBO

MotherhoodBefore any rumors start, NO, I am not pregnant!  Rather, this topic choice was inspired by an article on Forbes Woman today, entitled Pregnant? You’re Fired!: Pregnancy Not a Legitimate Obstacle to Success.

Music therapy is a female-dominated profession.  In the 2011 Statistical Profile of the AMTA Membership, 90% of the respondents were female (1,492 females, 169 males).  Consequentially, family planning and pregnancy will be issues that the majority of music therapists will face.  However, this was an issue that was never discussed during my music therapy training.  Especially as an MTBO (that’s Music Therapy Business Owner), how do we navigate family life while maintaining our professional life?

I have seen colleagues adopt a few different approaches.  I know some have subcontracted for maternity leave.  On the one hand, services continue for your clients, but some populations adjust to a change in service provider better than others.  Clients with autism may have a particularly hard time with this transition.  I worked with a student who started violently acting out a month before his classroom teacher went on maternity leave, because he was so anxious about the change.

Other MTBOs have set their clinical schedules around the birth of their child.  This seems easier to do if your baby arrives towards the end of the school year/beginning of the summer, but what about a January baby?  Especially if you contract within schools, it may be hard to negotiate a leave in the middle of the year.

MTBOs – I would like your input.  What options have worked for you?  How do you maintain a balance between family life and your business?  (Dads, we want to hear your side, as well!)


Rachelle Norman

This fantastic comment was submitted by Rachelle Norman of Soundscape Music Therapy ( Thanks, Rachelle!

What a juicy question! For me, the changes happened pretty naturally based on the stage my business was in. I chose private practice precisely so I could reduce my workload and have a flexible schedule when kids came along, so I let my caseload shrink while I was pregnant. I ended a subcontracting relationship that had me working with kids after school so that I would be down to daytime hours only, and I hired subcontractors to cover my maternity leave. I gave all of my clients the option to use my subs or not; some did, some went without MT for my maternity leave, and a couple found other therapists and continued with those therapists after my maternity leave. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this path, but it worked for me. The scariest part of it all was not knowing whether I would make it the full nine months – going on bed rest earlier would certainly have made for significant problems.

In planning for future kids, I’m building up savings to cover my maternity leave time and am working on streams of income that would still be coming in even if I can’t go to clients for some reason. I’m looking into short-term disability insurance that may help to cover the gap for a longer maternity leave or hospital stay, but I haven’t found great options yet. By the time I am pregnant again, I may be ready to hire an employee, or I may subcontract again. Of course, I will also cross my fingers for a healthy, complication-free pregnancy.

Clinically-speaking, yes, it will affect clients for you to leave for a while, but that’s life. Fortunately, we have the skills to help our clients through these transitions.

All of this can be done. Yes, your business will look different from what you are doing now, but that’s the beauty of building your own business. My only other advice is to decide what your priorities are and remind yourself of them when you inevitably start comparing yourself to other moms and other MTBOs!

Kellee Coviak Hansen

From Lillieth Cusick Grand of Milestone Music Therapy (

This has long been an issue in the field of music therapy. I remember 20 years ago one of my professors of music therapy, who studied under E. Thayer Gaston (“the father of music therapy” according to some), telling us that he used to question the women for even pursuing the degree. He would say something like, “you’re just going to go off and have babies”. Regardless of how chauvinistic this point of view may have been, it turns out, he may have been right to a degree. The field of music therapy has a burn-out rate of less than 5 years. I believe that mommyhood is a big part of that. The majority of women who I graduated with who ‘dropped out’ of practice did so because they wanted to stay home and raise their families. Interestingly enough, I’m pleased to say that many of them are now rejoining our work force.

For me, I was in private practice when I had my first two boys. Back then, I had several subcontractors anyway and was able to shift my caseload to them. Then, I took on more of a owner/manager role and kept my personal caseload lower while the kids were little. The next time that I had a child, I was working full-time for a hospital and only took the 6 week maternity leave allowed. Since I already had a nanny, because of having a child with severe neurologic impairment, it was a relatively easy shift. I did wish though that I could have gone back only part time, but as a single mom that was not financially possible.

Right now, starting a private practice and being a single mom, I’m experiencing an interesting challenge. I don’t have enough clients yet to justify a nanny. My disabled child can not participate in traditional childcare. So, I am trying to get clients during school hours so that I can be home after school for him. The baby goes to a traditional babysitter’s house. This is just until I build enough of a case load to pay for a nanny.

Now I’m wondering how many music therapists are single moms like me. Hmmm………

Jona Jeffcoat, MT-BC

Great question! My son is now 13 months old and I am still learning the balance. When I went on maternity leave I hired someone as an employee to take over a chunk of my caseload. Some clients chose to go without services while others embraced a new take on treatment. I kept my employee on even when I came back from maternity leave.

The balancing act of being a music therapist, a business owner, and a mother is a very difficult one but I find that it does have a learning curve and a light at the end of the tunnel. Every day I learn something new about my true life values and the delicate balancing act that must occur. Most importantly I learned that I went NUTS without music therapy in my life for the six weeks that I took off to spend time with my son.

I find the most enjoyment with sharing music with my child and by watching him grow as a result. Zachary has always been behind on his developmental milestones. I think my experience as a music therapist gave me a hightened awareness to it. He learned to crawl through music therapy!! He is catching up but music remains to be his motivator. My experience as a mother and as someone who was TERRIFIED if my child was developing normally allows me to connect better with my families and I believe, provide higher quality services.

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