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For Cause Not Applause

I was first introduced to music therapy in high school. As part of a grade 10 music project, we were asked to choose a career in music and write a report about it. My music teacher suggested I write about music therapy since I was interested in health sciences. I wrote the report and thought that music therapy was cool, but I still really wanted to be a doctor. Over time, I started revisiting music therapy as a potential career choice. After more research and soul searching, I decided music therapy was something I wished to pursue. I completed a co-op with Rachael Finnerty at the music therapy studio she owned at the time. It was through this that I first heard of the music therapy program at Acadia University, a small school in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I visited the university for an open house and fell in love with Wolfville and Acadia. I auditioned and was accepted into the music therapy program. I started in September of 2014.

My four years as a music therapy student were full of highs, lows, laughs, and tears. The first two years of any music therapy program include taking core music courses such as theory, musicology, lessons, ensembles, as well as psychology. I found it hard to power through the first two years. On top of adjusting to university life and being so far away from home for the first time, the workload was starting to get to me. The level of intensity was high, and the pressure was real. For a time, I seriously considered dropping out or changing my major.  However, thanks to the support from my peers, parents, professors, and my own personal brand of stubbornness, I made it through.

Third and fourth year brought on a new set of challenges. With the music core out of the way, I was finally able to take music therapy specific courses. I thrived in these classes and my GPA went up considerably. Finally, I was learning about music therapy! I also found myself in a number of history and extra psychology courses. On top of regular classes I was also doing practicum placements predominately with adults with developmental disabilities and at risk youth. It was during my practicums that I came to the realization that I did not want to be a music therapist necessarily, but still wanted to do something with it.

As graduation came closer and most of my peers started applying for their internships, I was applying to return for a second degree in psychology. There is so much information out there about music therapy that has yet to be studied making it a really exciting area of research. After completing my thesis next year, I intend on taking some time off school to travel and eventually return to pursue graduate studies. My goal is to be able to research how elements of music therapy can be integrated into more verbal forms of therapy and counselling.

Music therapy itself is an exciting, growing field that overlaps with many other healthcare professions. Music therapists can work in a variety of settings including (but not limited to) hospitals, rehabilitation centres, schools, private practice and can work with an even broader set of populations (the possibilities are endless!). Music therapy is rapidly expanding throughout Canada as music therapists and other allied healthcare professionals advocate and raise awareness for music therapy.

My advice to anyone currently pursuing or thinking of pursuing a music therapy degree would be to learn your strengths. Seek out opportunities in which you can showcase and build upon your strengths to the point where those strengths become skills. For those in the early stages of a music therapy degree and might be struggling, hang in there. The first two years are demanding but you will come out of it stronger and wiser. All that theory knowledge and long hours of practicing will pay off (often in ways you least expect). Take breaks when needed, don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t lose sight of why you chose this degree in the first place. Everyone in music therapy is in it for a reason; whether it comes from a personal experience or just pure passion, everyone has a reason. Hold on to it and don’t let it go. I also recommend going to counselling. Even if you do not see the point or do not think you need it, you will be faced with a lot of heavy topics that are hard to talk about and may even be triggering. As a therapist, you have to take care of your mental health so you can be there for both yourself and your clients. Developing a self-care toolkit and healthy coping skills early on will help in all aspects of your life, not just in your practice.

I have found great value in my music therapy degree. I have been able to work as a youth centre programmer and as a job coach for adults with disabilities. At these jobs, I was able to use the skills I learned both musical and non-musical. On top of being a music therapist, some music therapy graduates go on to become speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, and much more. A degree in music therapy gives you a unique, holistic perspective on how systems interact and the impact those systems have on the individual. It teaches musicianship, communication, team work, observation, personal discipline, time management, as well as fundamental professional skills.

While some may doubt or question music therapy as a profession, I stand by it 110%. I would not trade my degree for anything. I am beyond thankful to have had such a unique university experience, to have learned and made music alongside so many bright and talented people, and to have worked with such amazing clients. One of my close friends from my graduating class once summed it up perfectly, “We do it for a cause, not for applause.” (N.Cochrane)

Erin Norris