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5 Tips for the Undervalued Music Therapist

I decided to be a music therapist when I was 18. I was a pretty idealistic teen and had no trouble fitting my own narrative into into the powerful narratives of inspirational commercials and interviews showcasing medical music therapists. What those commercials and videos don't elaborate on, however, are the poignant moments when our profession feels overshadowed or under-recognized.


When I got my first job, I was both advocating/educating a whole new hospital on what I did. I strived to build bridges of understanding and foster relationships while also finding my own footing. Along my way, I've found so many supporters. I've also heard well-intentioned words that sting and build and creep back into my ear again and again. "The fun lady is here!" "Oh, it's just music therapy!" "My daughter plays [insert instrument here] and could do this too right?"


No textbook I studied (and I’ve scoured many) prepared me for some of these unique challenges in our line of work. We can be the last to get resources, or struggle to secure a quiet space for therapy sessions. The administrative decision-making process can also feel like a silo. There are times when we’re left out of the loop, our input feels overlooked, and professional growth seems slow with limited opportunities for advancement. To quote Hamilton, "I want to be in the room where it happens!"


There can be also be a creeping feeling of stagnation, scant opportunities for growth, and, of course, the looming shadow of burnout. You’re exhausted, stressed out, with little time left for self-care. Some days, I barely have time to drink my, now, cold coffee. Over time, these layers might blend into a sobering sense of being undervalued.


Yet, in the very heart of these challenges lies our indomitable spirit. There’s no denying the hard work we put in. We create these incredible bonds with kiddos and witness palpable progress. We often stand in a stark contrast to moments when our efforts seem invisible to the wider world. Music therapists don’t always get the recognition we deserve. These words and these actions, subtle and trivial on their own, can compound to an icky feeling in our chest.


Speak Up

The hospital environment is often fast paced and your colleagues ma be juggling a number of patient needs at once. Don't wait for others to notice - speak up! Your work becomes more visible when you voice your experiences. Share your triumphs and trials. Those special moments - when a child smiled for the first time in days, or felt comfortable enough to share how they're feeling with you - they matter profoundly. Each story you tell elevates the understanding of music therapy's impact and why we have a seat at the table. It's not just the victories, though. Frustrations, too, are important. If you keep missing patient needs because of a lack of collaboration or you're feeling stuck with a difficult patient experience - your experiences are often not felt alone. Make sure your voice is heard.


Connect

I've found that the best way to show what music therapy is about is to let others see it in action. Let your colleagues in. Invite them to observe your sessions and witness firsthand the transformation that music can bring. Show them the value of what you do, dispelling the notion that it’s “just music therapy.” Over time, you can build a close-knit referral network. It’s more than just professional—it’s built on mutual trust. Trust in our shared mission to provide the best care possible.




Keep Learning


Clinical best practices evolve, and so do we. Even when you’re feeling undervalued, never stop being curious and open to learning and growing. Each course or workshop I attend is a personal commitment to refine my skills. It's about ensuring that we're armed with the latest techniques to offer the best care. Continue to learn new techniques, develop your skills, and show how indispensable you are. I also find that spending time learning lights a fire within me. It helps me stay excited for patient interactions and bring new creativity. Prove your worth, not to others, but to yourself.



Take Care of Yourself


Burnout is a real thing, and you matter just as much as the patients and families you help. It’s essential to remember that we can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking scheduled time off to recharge is crucial. Whether it's diving into a good book, spending quality time with loved ones, or simply taking a moment to breathe, these breaks ensure we return to work revitalized and fully present for my patients.. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation.




Music Therapy Love


One of the best forms of solace I’ve found is in the company of my fellow music therapists. Having a chat over a cup of coffee, sharing a quick laugh in between sessions, or even a nod of understanding can go a long way. Consider this your sign to reach out to a fellow MT today and send some love. I'm sure they could use it!




While our work might seem like a quiet melody in the bustling symphony of healthcare, it’s essential to remember - we are crucial. We make a difference. On those challenging days, hold on to the memories of the smiles, the breakthrough moments, and the healing that your music brought. Our work is not “just” anything. It’s powerful. It’s transformative. It’s necessary.


You're doing great work.


Love, love, love,

Amy

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