“Directing” the Michigan Task Force: My Race for #MTAdvocacy

In her guest post, Dr. Dena Register describes one of the three roles of music therapy advocacy as the “Directors.”  She writes, “Directors are the ones who are able to see the big picture of possibilities that exist beyond the current situation.”  I would consider my role in #MTAdvocacy as that of a director.

I clearly remember sitting at the 2012 AMTA national conference and seeing a slew of my colleagues receiving the “Changemaker Award for Music Therapy Advocacy,” as they had successfully spearheaded licensure legislation within their states.  I remember turning to Bernadette – my music therapy partner-in-crime and task force co-chair – and saying we needed to get the licensure efforts started in Michigan.  Over three years later, we have the wheels in motion, but we are still far from licensure legislation in Michigan.

One of the biggest and most important lessons that I have learned through the task force process is that advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint.

The first step in the task force process was to gather our team.  We connected with a number of Michigan music therapists representing work within a variety of populations.  We examined current Michigan legislation which may relate to our work as music therapists.  Then we set out to gain a more complete picture of music therapy in Michigan by drafting and distributing a survey to the nearly 200 Michigan music therapists.  We then assembled this information into a Fact Sheet on Michigan music therapy.

At this point, our progress encountered a big delay, as it became time for the 2014 elections.  There was a lot of turnover in our state legislature and both the house and the senate assumed a Republican majority.  This caused us to have to change our focus a bit and re-evaluate our best options for pursuing “advocacy champions” within the legislature.

In the spring of 2015, the Michigan task force held an advocacy training for Michigan music therapists and our first Hill Day on April 22, during Michigan Music Therapy Week.  We had 9 music therapists in attendance and we met with 12 separate legislators and/or their staff.  Unfortunately, I was not able to meet with my Representative, Tom Barrett, as he was tied up in committee hearings concerning the auto no-fault legislation.

Another lesson I’ve learned through this process is that there are a lot of factors which are outside of our control.  At the time of our Hill Day, auto no-fault was a matter of priority.  Now, our government is – understandably – focused on fixing the Flint water crisis.  When those bigger issues arise, we really just have to sit back and wait for the right time to continue our journey.  Through it all, we keep lacing up our shoes with our sights set on the finish line: state recognition of music therapy in Michigan.

Image courtesy of Iwan Beijes at freeimages.com
Image courtesy of Iwan Beijes at freeimages.com

[Guest Post] Social Media Advocacy Month 2016

The following is a guest post written by Dr. Dena Register, CBMT Regulatory Affairs Advisor, writing on behalf of Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month.

Each New Year brings the opportunity to reflect on all that we have accomplished and to determine what is needed in the coming year to move forward. As the Regulatory Affairs (CBMT) and Government Relations (AMTA) teams reflect on the first 10 years of the State Recognition Operational Plan, we are grateful for the number of individuals that have actively engaged in the advocacy process. We have had the incredible fortune to watch groups of diverse individuals pull together, capitalize on their strengths, and create access to services for clients and families that benefit greatly from music therapy.

One of the observations we reflect on regularly is what makes an advocacy team successful. The teams that stand out are those that have 3 different kinds of participants: Connectors, Reflectors and Directors. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, this seems to be a “triple threat” of action-oriented personalities that are able to work in tandem and move a group forward.

Building Bridges

Image courtesy of ddpavumba at freedigitalphoto.net
Image courtesy of ddpavumba at freedigitalphoto.net

“Connectors” are people who are gifted at building bridges by bringing others together and recognizing complimentary skill sets in those that they know.  Connectors enjoy creating opportunities for people from diverse background and experiences to meet and interact. The role of the Connector in advocacy is to maximize the human resources available to them and to increase the network for their cause by helping interested parties get to know one another and discuss common interests. It is often the Connectors who are able to establish relationships with legislators or other decision makers that develops them into incredible advocates.

Holding Up the Mirror

Image courtesy of Aleksa D at freedigitalphoto.net
Image courtesy of Aleksa D at freedigitalphoto.net

“Reflectors” are gifted at taking in information, experiences, and perceptions and—as the name implies—reflecting back the most salient points to those around them. Reflectors often have a knack for diffusing situations by indicating an understanding and empathy for someone else’s position. Reflectors also make great advocates because of their fierce loyalty to their cause. Their ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and then to communicate that to multiple audiences brings all sides of an issue to the foreground for discussion. Reflectors unite various individuals and guide the group to a vision that recognizes the complexity of all issues.

Consulting the Compass

Image courtesy of nirots at freedigitalphoto.net
Image courtesy of nirots at freedigitalphoto.net

“Directors” are the ones who are able to see the big picture of possibilities that exist beyond the current situation. They are able to assimilate the work of the “Reflectors” and the “Connectors” and navigate a course of next steps based on that information. Directors also gather additional relevant information as they move forward and constantly attend to what course corrections are necessary to get to their end goal. Those who are most successful in this role demonstrate flexibility in their thinking and actions, which allows them to accommodate to various situations that are presented and that often change without prior notice. Directors take a broad view of an issue, projecting out beyond it’s current status or challenge and using an ideal vision or end goal to guide the day-to-day steps necessary to get there.


So how about you? Are you a Connector, Reflector or Director? Or maybe there is another description you would use?


Music Therapy in Michigan Week 2014

MSU was the first school to offer a music therapy degree.  I am proud to be an alumna of this program.
MSU was the first school to offer a music therapy degree.
I am proud to be an alumna of this program.

Today I am wearing one of my favorite music therapy t-shirts: my MSU MT shirt.  I actually designed this shirt, which was sold by the MSU Music Therapy Club while I was a student.  Though it is not uncommon to see me in a music therapy shirt (especially on a Friday), this week it is particularly noteworthy because it is the final day of Music Therapy in Michigan Week!

The last full week in April is always Music Therapy in Michigan Week.  This is a time to celebrate, educate, and advocate for music therapy services within Michigan.  This is an especially exciting time for music therapy advocacy in Michigan, as the state task force (of which I am a co-chair) is in full swing.  The task force recently unveiled a fact sheet based on the results of a survey of music therapists we conducted last fall.  Also, there have recently been a number of new music therapy job listings within the state.

How are you celebrating #MTinMIweek2014?  Leave a comment below!


A bit more about the task force…

The purpose of the task force is to examine music therapy within Michigan, particularly in regards to our state government.  Board certified music therapists are credentialed by an independent national certification board (CBMT), but each state government considers the MT-BC credential differently.  Currently, the Michigan state government does not have a form of title protection for music therapists, so there is no repercussion if a non-credentialed individual calls him or herself a music therapist.  We want to be sure that individuals who are seeking music therapy treatment receive quality, evidence-based services from someone who is properly trained to provide them.  All CODA MTS music therapists are board certified and actively maintain their credential through continuing education experiences.  Wondering more about the process to become board certified?  The American Music Therapy Association website provides all those details here.


We Are…Educated!


The 2014 Social Media Music Therapy Advocacy Month (#MTAdvocacy) theme is “We are…”.  This theme is intended to “center on exploring and honoring the profession of music therapy as a distinct profession, unique from other professions and professionals with which we work” (American Music Therapy Association).  Though it has taken me ALL MONTH to get around to putting my thoughts into words (yes, it has been a whirlwind of a month!), I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this theme.  An advocacy aspect which is particularly relevant in my life right now is the amount of education music therapists have and how surprised many people are when they find out what is involved in becoming a board-certified music therapist.

There are three main steps to initially becoming a board-certified music therapist: 1) complete an approved music therapy training program (a 4-year undergraduate degree or a 2-year equivalency program for those who already have a degree in music); 2) complete a six-month music therapy internship; and 3) successfully pass the music therapy certification exam.  An individual may then use the credential: MT-BC, meaning Music Therapist Board Certified.  [Note: There are other credentials used in other countries, as well as fully trained individuals who obtained a Registered Music Therapist (RMT) credential prior to the establishment of the MT-BC.]

Once certified, the music therapy certification cycle is five years.  At the end of each cycle, the music therapist must either take a recertification exam or provide documentation that he/she has completed at least 100 hours worth of continuing music therapy education (CMTE) credits within the five-year cycle.  The CBMT Scope of Practice outlines the skills board-certified music therapists are trained to perform and we adhere to a Code of Professional Practice.

Music therapists are not only trained to be proficient musicians – taking courses in theory, aural training, music history, and performance classes – but we also take courses in biology, anatomy, medical terminology, special education, psychology and/or counseling.  Many music therapists pursue graduate and doctoral degrees in music therapy or a related field.  For example, I am currently completing my master’s in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Special Education, as these are populations with whom I extensively work.

Unfortunately, there are still many who do not understand the requirements for music therapy certification.  I recently heard about an individual who was employed as a “music therapist” for six years and had absolutely no music therapy training.  Both employers and consumers need to be aware of the qualifications of anyone providing their services.  Many states, including Michigan, are in the process of examining and/or actively pursuing state recognition of music therapy through licensure or title protection, to help ensure that quality services are being provided.

To learn more about music therapy training and schools offering music therapy programs, please visit the American Music Therapy Association or post your questions below.

#MTAdvocacy Month 2014: Guest Post from Judy Simpson

The theme for this year’s Social Media Advocacy Month is “We Are…”.  The following is a guest post from Judy Simpson, MT-BC, Director of Government Relations at the American Music Therapy Association.

Judy Simpson, MT-BC

When I started my career as a music therapist in 1983, it was not uncommon for me to describe my profession by comparing it to other professions which were more well-known. If people gave me a puzzled look after I proudly stated, “I use music to change behaviors,” I would add, “Music therapy is like physical therapy and occupational therapy, but we use music as the tool to help our patients.” Over the years as I gained more knowledge and experience, I obviously made changes and improvements to my response when asked, “What is music therapy?” My enhanced explanations took into consideration not only the audience but also growth of the profession and progress made in a variety of research and clinical practice areas.

The best revisions to my description of music therapy, however, have grown out of government relations and advocacy work. The need to clearly define the profession for state legislators and state agency officials as part of the AMTA and CBMT State Recognition Operational Plan has forced a serious review of the language we use to describe music therapy. The process of seeking legislative and regulatory recognition of the profession and national credential provides an exceptional opportunity to finally be specific about who we are and what we do as music therapists.

For far too long we have tried to fit music therapy into a pre-existing description of professions that address similar treatment needs. What we need to do is provide a clear, distinct, and very specific narrative of music therapy so that all stakeholders and decision-makers “get it.” Included below are a few initial examples that support our efforts in defining music therapy separate from our peers that work in other healthcare and education professions.


  • Music therapist’s qualifications are unique due to the requirements to be a professionally trained musician in addition to training and clinical experience in practical applications of biology, anatomy, psychology, and the social and behavioral sciences.
  • Music therapists actively create, apply, and manipulate various music elements through live, improvised, adapted, individualized, or recorded music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages.
  • Music therapists structure the use of both instrumental and vocal music strategies to facilitate change and to assist clients achieve functional outcomes related to health and education needs.
  • In contrast, when OTs, Audiologists, and SLPs report using music as a part of treatment, it involves specific, isolated techniques within a pre-determined protocol, using one pre-arranged aspect of music to address specific and limited issues. This differs from music therapists’ qualifications to provide interventions that utilize all music elements in real-time to address issues across multiple developmental domains concurrently.


As we “celebrate” 2014’s Social Media Advocacy Month, I invite you to join us in the acknowledgement of music therapy as a unique profession. Focused on the ultimate goal of improved state recognition with increased awareness of benefits and increased access to services, we have an exciting adventure ahead of us. Please join us on this advocacy journey as we proudly declare, “We are Music Therapists!”


About the Author: Judy Simpson is the Director of Government Relations for the American Music Therapy Association. She can be reached at simpson@musictherapy.org. 

#MTAdvocacy in Michigan

SM Advocacy Badge

January is Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy month and the theme for 2013 is CONNECT.  This event was created to celebrate music therapy and advocate throughout social media avenues.  During this past year, I became the Public Relations chair for the Michigan Music Therapists organization.  So, for my contribution to the #MTAdvocacy cause and in light of my new role, I decided to focus on the connections music therapy has made with local media in recent years.  Here are some articles, interviews, videos, etc. you may want to check out.

June 23, 2011 – A Love Song in Three-Part Harmony tells the story of Louie Morand’s work at the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home.

March 22, 2012 – Music Therapy Proving Beneficial in Brain Injury Response is an article about Erin Wegener’s work in neurologic music therapy within Spectrum Health.

Sept. 17, 2012 – Eastern Michigan University professor, Dr. Terra Merrill, discussed music therapy on Michigan Radio.  Listen to her interview here.

Oct. 1, 2012 – Another interview & brief article featuring Dr. Terra Merrill on Everything Elderly, a weekly show on 1290 WLBY (Ann Arbor, MI): Music Therapy Offers a Wealth of Significant Benefits.

Oct. 31, 2012 – This is a nice article about Michigan Music Therapist, Rebecca Findley, being selected as the GLR’s first VP-Elect: Great Lakes Caring Hospice Music Therapist Voted VP-Elect of AMTA Great Lakes Region.

Dec 31, 2012 – This article actually came out of Minneapolis, MN, but was posted by Northern Michigan’s 9 & 10 News: MindStart Brings Music Therapy DVDs to Dementia Care.

And, finally, a video that is very near and dear to my heart, A Music Therapy Documentary: Thank You for the Music, which tells the story of the moratorium placed on the MSU Music Therapy program in 2009.


Do you know of other recent Michigan music therapy features?  Please share them in the comments below!

Music Therapy State Licensure Reference List

In my previous post – Parents as Advocates– I mentioned that, within a growing number of states, there is an advocacy push for state licensure of music therapy.  There have been a number of media stories released about these efforts and I thought it would be worthwhile to compile a reference list; I have also included links to the actual Bills when available.  This is a working list and will be updated as articles appear.  Please leave a comment if you come across one I have missed!

Music Therapy: A Field That’s Climbing the Scales (The Stony Brook Independent; December 14, 2011)
Music Therapy Practice Act
They’ve Got Rhythm; They Want Licensing (Aurora Sentinel; January 18,2012)

Government Relations Latest Developments (Music Therapy Association of Georgia)
Music Therapist Licensure Bill Passes Senate (The Weekly; March 5, 2012)
Music Therapist Licensure Bill Passes Senate (SenatePress.net; March 5, 2012)

State Licensure Recognition (Music Therapy Association of Minnesota, Feb 2012)

Music Therapist Licensure (Nevada Dept. of Health & Human Services)
Drumming Up Music Therapy NV Licensure Bill SB-190 (YouTube; March 12, 2011)
Senate Bill No. 190 – Senator Denis (2011)
Celebrating Music Therapy Licensures in 2011 (AMTA on YouTube; Nov 2011)

New York
Music Therapy: A Field That’s Climbing the Scales (The Stony Brook Independent; December 14, 2011)

North Carolina
Music Therapy Moving Toward Licensure in State (Winston-Salem Journal; July 18, 2011)
Spotlight Falls on Music Therapists (Raleigh News and Observer; January 18, 2012)

North Dakota
Music Therapy Helps Facilitate the Field’s First Licensure Law (UND, July 2011)
Celebrating Music Therapy Licensures in 2011 (AMTA on YouTube; Nov 2011)
Music Therapy: A Field That’s Climbing the Scales (The Stony Brook Independent; December 14, 2011)

State Licenses for Music Therapists Would Benefit People Who Have Disabilities (Tulsa World; April 11, 2011)

South Carolina
Healing Sounds: Lyman Lawmaker’s Bill Would Recognize Music Therapists (GoUpstate.com; January 17, 2011)
Bill 3093: Music Therapy Practice Act (2011-2012)

Parents as Advocates

It’s January, which means it is Social Media Advocacy Month in the music therapy cyber world.  Last year I wrote about advocating in our everyday lives. As I thought about what advocacy aspect to address this year, I found myself focusing on a question I often receive: How do I get music therapy services for my child with special needs?  

When you think about it, the answer lies in advocacy.

Here are ways in which parents advocating services for their child can also advocate for the field of music therapy.

Request an Assessment
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes music therapy as a related service under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  However, there are still many educators and administrators who are unaware of this specification.  By requesting an assessment – the first step to receiving music therapy services – parents bring awareness to the field, create opportunities to educate the educators, and just may elicit overall program changes.  I received my first school-wide contract in part because one parent requested music therapy services for her child.

Invite Music Therapists to Speak
Most music therapists jump at the opportunity to speak about our field.  Parent support or advocacy groups are a great place to share information and gather additional advocates.  I am a firm believer in the policy of strength in numbers!

Contact Your Legislators
Currently, there are a number of states working for legislature establishing a state music therapy license.  This not only ensures clients are receiving the highest level of care from properly trained professionals, but it also strengthens the case for healthcare coverage of music therapy services.  Parent testimonials supporting the role of music therapy provides legislators with a tangible, human reason to join our advocacy efforts.

What other ideas do you have?  Are you a parent of a child with special needs; how have you been successful in advocating for services? Let us know, leave a comment below!

Music Therapy Advocacy in Everyday Life

This month, January 2011, there is an initiative for blogs and podcasts to highlight advocacy in music therapy.  As I contemplated what to focus upon for this next blog, colleague Kimberly Sena Moore suggested I contribute to the advocacy project.  To learn more about this initiative and to be connected to other advocacy posts, please visit her blog: Music Therapy Maven.

When I hear the word “advocacy”, I picture lobbying at the Capitol, calling legislators, and formal petitions.  Although I did happen to attend church with a Senator this past weekend, all of that seems very intimidating and quite removed from my daily life.  However, by definition, to advocate is merely “to support or recommend publicly; to plead for or speak in favor of [a cause]”.  That doesn’t seem so difficult.

As some of you know, in my “free time” my significant other and I are involved in real estate investment and property flipping.  (Music therapist by day, DIY diva by night!)  We are currently in the middle of remodeling a house that was foreclosed and in desperate need of some love.  Over holiday break we tackled sanding the hardwood floors.  To do this we had to rent an orbital floor sander from Home Depot and, as is pretty typical, we were both wearing Michigan State apparel when we went to pick up the sander.  The Home Depot Associate working the rental desk asked us about our affiliation with the university and I simply responded that John has a psychology degree and I have degrees in music education and music therapy and left it at that.  We loaded up the sander and headed off to the house.  About an hour into the project, we realized we were going to need to trade out some of the sanding disks for a different grade paper.  So I headed back to Home Depot for supplies while John kept working.

The same Home Depot Associate (HDA) was working and, as he helped me find the necessary supplies, the following conversation ensued.

HDA: Do you still do anything with your music degrees?
Me: Yes, I actually have a music therapy private practice.  Mostly, I contract within schools and work with children in special education, lots of kids with autism and other special needs…
HDA: So, most music therapists work with children?
Me: No, not necessarily. I just prefer to work with children.  There are lots of music therapists who work with the elderly and those with dementia…music and memory are very closely related in the brain.  There are also music therapists working with Parkinson’s patients, particularly with gait training…walking…
HDA: Is it that the rhythm helps them walk?
Me: Exactly.  And music at different tempos can help with moving at different speeds. Also, there are music therapists that work in hospitals, hospice, mental health… it’s a very diverse field.
HDA: Didn’t MSU stop the music therapy program?
Me: Yeah… I’m still pretty aggravated by that.

We then proceeded to discuss the recent moratorium of the music therapy program at MSU.  It turns out he exercises at the intramural building that is across from the music buildings and had encountered music professors during his work-outs.  I was so surprised and excited about this conversation that, as soon as I got in the car, I pulled out my phone and posted on Facebook: Got to talk about music therapy with the tool rental guy at The Home Depot. He even knew about MSU closing the MT program. Pretty sweet interaction, if you ask me!”

This is advocacy!  Everytime we talk about our profession – with anyone – we are advocating.  For all I know, the Home Depot Associate could be the Governor’s nephew!  Who might the cashier at the grocery store know?  Or the teller at the bank?

But what if I did not have to return to the store? This conversation would not have happened, simply because I did not take the initiative to advocate for my profession.  When he asked about our majors I could have easily asked if he was familiar with music therapy.  Why didn’t I?  Probably because, in the ten years I have been involved with the field, I have had to correct so many misconceptions of music therapy.  It can be both exhausting and frustrating.  However, every time we explain the many facets of our profession, that is one less misconception that will have to be corrected later.  And, hopefully, that person can proceed to educate others.

Advocacy does not have to be extravagant, inconvenient or challenging.  It can be as simple as volunteering information about music therapy to those we encounter in our everyday life.  With the increase and accessibility of social networking, the world is shrinking.  So, though you may be telling your story to a ‘mere’ sales associate, you never know where that interaction may lead.