During my doctoral candidature at Griffith University, I was fortunate to attend the Music, Health and Happiness Conference(2008) in Manchester which included a range of presentations about the relationship between music and health. My main interest at the time was in injury prevention and management for musicians, however, I also attended several music therapy sessions where I gained knowledge about the profound effects music has on physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. The following year I had the pleasure of hearing one of my former flute students, Claire Stephensen present a paper on treating performance anxiety symptoms from a music therapist's perspective at the Australian Performing Arts Healthcare (ASPAH) Conference in Brisbane. Claire kindly agreed to an interview about her journey from learning flute as a student to her present career as a music therapist.
KL: You achieved a lot of success as a young flute player, graduating with a Bachelor of Music from the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University. What inspired you to pursue a career in music therapy?
CS: As a 15 year old, I have a distinct memory of leafing through the 'Job Guide' that all Queensland high school students received. At the time I knew music was a large part of my life, but hadn't considered being a performer. I remember being drawn to Occupational Therapy and other 'helping professions,' including Music Therapy. However, the following year, my life took a slight change in direction and I discovered in you a brilliant flute teacher! I decided to take the flute more seriously and worked quickly through AMEB grades 6, 8 and the AMusA diploma exams. Subsequently I gained a place at the Queensland Conservatorium in a Bachelor of Music degree. While there were many highlights during my time at the 'Con,' it was during a lowlight that I somehow wasn't able to play with feeling, which used to be my strength. Like many music students, I began to question my future, and went through many 'lost' moments as I tried to work out where to go next. During a conversation with Mum (who had invested so much of her time and finances driving from Kingaroy to Brisbane (6 hour return trip) each weekend for flute, piano and theory lessons )she said, "What about music therapy?" That was my turning moment and I immediately started researching pre-requisites for the music therapy course. I met with the course co-ordinator and there began my love and passion for music therapy.
KL:What type of training was required to become a professional music therapist?
CS: To register as a music therapist in Australia, you have to complete a Masters in Music Therapy. Prior to the Masters program, a Bachelor degree in music, health science or education as well as 3 first-year psychology subjects must also be completed. In 2006, I took 12 months to complete psychology and sociology subjects, then after a successful audition, began the 2-year Masters in Music Therapy in 2007. The course involved training in aural musicianship, theory, guitar, piano and voice (specific to music therapy), as well as therapeutic improvisation, song writing, research and counseling. Additionally, we were required to study medical diagnoses and the application of music therapy to assess, treat and evaluate programs. We participated in practical placements under the supervision of registered music therapists and completed a 10,000 word, research-based thesis.
KL: Music therapy is a field in which professionally trained musicians can make a real difference in people's lives, though many may not be fully aware of the healing power of music. In your personal and professional experience, could you give some real life examples of how music therapy has changed lives?
CS: Wow - where to begin! In music therapy, people who have lost functioning due to brain injuries have learned to speak and walk again due to music and rhythm's ability to stimulate neural pathways in the brain. However, my personal experience lies in mental health and relationships. Music stimulates chemicals such as dopamine and seretonin, key ingredients in positive moods and psychiatric medications. Through songs and music listening I have seen patients and clients improve their ability to manage their emotions and thoughts. When we try to block negative emotions, we can also block positive ones, and I have witnessed people learning to 'feel again' and express themselves through the healthy means of creating music. I've been fortunate to witness mothers fall in love with their infants and children for the first time through the capacity of music to bring people together. Music helps improve cognitive, social, emotional, physical and communication functioning.
KL: What career opportunities are available for music therapists? Are there many full-time positions for music therapists?
CS: Music therapists work in many areas including special education, oncology, palliative care, disability, rehabilitation, mental health, aged care and medical settings across the age range. The music therapy profession continues to grow throughout Australia, and the AMTA is currently lobbying for government awareness, which should assist this development. A number of music therapists work full-time in one setting (usually hospitals), however most music therapists juggle contracts, employment and private practice (much like musicians!).
KL: Do you have any advice for young musicians considering a career in music therapy?
CS: Music Therapy is suitable for anyone interested in integrating music and health with their profession. For those considering a career in music therapy, I offer three tips:
Useful Links (Australian websites):
www.austmta.org.au Australian Music Therapy Association: Registration and membership body for Australian Music Therapists and students. Here you will find further information on Music Therapy, how and where to study and a list of registered music therapists.
www.conservatorium.unimelb.edu.au/mmusthrp University of Melbourne
www.uq.edu.au University of Queensland
www.nordoff-robbins.com.au University of Western Sydney in partnership with Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Australia.