Music Therapy in Schools: Making Your Presence Known

Leave it up to me to save my writing for Social Media Advocacy Month up until the second to last day of the month! Sheesh, Noa.

This month has been exceptionally busy. I mentioned in my last post that I am in the process of jumpstarting a brand new business venture with a colleague and close friend, which is very exciting but has been a bit all-consuming (in a great way!) At the same time, I’m providing services for my 2 school contracts that have been growing SO quickly! I am truly blessed.

The majority of my music making takes place in schools: 2 districts and 5 buildings, to be exact. So when I’m carrying my guitar, instrument bag, and messenger back, I beeline for my final destination: “my” room. As a contractor, my presence in each of these buildings is short-term, and has adopted a nomadic feel at times. There have been several occasions during which I arrive at “my” space and learn that it is unavailable during my regularly scheduled, weekly session time. As music therapists, it is crucial to be flexible and able to improvise and function “in-the-moment,” but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s hard to be all of those different things when you just want to set your millions of bags down and get into the music. In an ideal circumstance, an alternate room is secured, and a session can begin only a few minutes delayed. In a typical circumstance, a free space is found 5-10 minutes into a 30-minute session, and at times followed by complaints from neighboring tenants that “the music is too loud,” or that faculty were not aware that I would be making “actual” music.

In my experience, special education committee members and treatment team staff view music therapy in the school settings as a valuable service. As a music therapist in the school setting, my role is to supplement to existing treatment and educational modalities, using music-based interventions to assist students in achieving existing academic and personal goals. I consult with teachers and specialists on a daily basis to ensure that we are all on the same page, and utilize shared strategies and orientations to provide optimal aid in the accomplishment of said goals. Referrals and evaluation requests for services are set into motion by the majority of the school’s population: parents, teachers, and/or school psychologists. Music therapy seems to be establishing a presence in the treatment sect of the school community, so how can we make that presence more widely known?

…I wish I had the answer! I can speak only from the methods that have been effective in my own experience. My best advice would be to do anything you can to make yourself known. I attend as many treatment team and staffing meetings as possible, email my teachers daily to check-in and follow up about academic content, poke by classrooms just to say hello, and get my students as involved as possible in their classroom environment and beyond! A great opportunity to spread awareness about music therapy came about last year when two of my students performed in their school talent show. Parents, teachers, and students were so excited to watch and experience the musical talents of my students, and it was a magical night all around. My students rocked so hard that we made it onto the front page of the local newspaper, with the caption reading “…with Miss Noa Elimelech, their music therapist.” I was ELATED.

I could go on and on about how incredibly gifted all of my students are [because they’re awesome!!], but I will save all of that for another day. I want to leave you with the message that I know that music therapy is valued as a treatment modality, but I think we can only continue to be on the up-and-up by advocating for our career path. Yes, we make music for a living; but we are specialists, trained therapists, and deserving of requesting a space of our own — even if just for 30 minutes at a time. In between sessions, take an extra minute to talk to a teacher or parent about music therapy, and inspire them to take interest in learning more. Our voices are vehicles for positive change with our clients and with the world surrounding our music.

Check out additional articles and resources pertaining to Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy month on Twitter (#mtadvocacy), the American Music Therapy Association website, or the Certification Board for Music Therapists Facebook page.