A response to the conference that divided opinion.
On the 8th April, I travelled up to Glasgow to attend the second biennial British Association for Music Therapy conference, aiming to explore ‘how Music Therapist might develop practices, articulate music therapy visions, values and professional currencies, and better engage with the demands and expectations of service users, commissioners, funders, and the health provisions at large’ (www.bamt.org) through various presentations, posters, round tables and workshops at the Technology and Innovation Centre at University of Strathclyde.
I feel it’s important to be upfront about something before continuing with this article, as it will no doubt effect how I respond to the conference and portray it here on my blog:
I was disappointed to have my abstract for the conference rejected; a presentation aimed at exploring the need for Music Therapists to adapt therapeutic boundaries, relationships and methods of sourcing work when using the internet and social media so that they remain safe, professional and in-keeping with best practice.
I will admit that as I travelled up to Scotland I felt frustrated to find no content across the weekend timetable that focused on the benefits and challenges of using social media platforms and the internet, and generally the way that Music Therapy is sought as a business and promoted as an intervention through online information. However, I felt that it was important to really receive information with an open mind and to really consider the UK profession as a whole rather than my own personal and professional views.
Throughout the weekend I arranged my schedule so that I could visit presentations and roundtables focusing on evidence based practice, research, professional identity and definition in 2016, and thinking about where Music Therapy is during this turbulent time of the potential demise of the NHS. There were many presentations focusing on clinical case studies or service evaluations, but I felt that whilst these would be informative and inspiring I wouldn’t be satisfying my need to gauge exactly where others feel Music Therapy is as an overall profession in the 2016 healthcare landscape.
I found that there was one consistent theme over the course of the weekend; the “many churches” of Music Therapy in these current times. I didn’t note down the speaker of that phrase, but it seems to really summarise the pull I could feel throughout the 3 days; so many different points of view, methods of working, ways of thinking about being a Music Therapist and providing Music Therapy. We are a collective of Therapists, but we are artists too and I wonder if our artistic differences also lead to therapeutic differences? But why should there be one “church”? One “religion” does not fit all. For some, there is no “religion” in terms of approaches to Music Therapy. And why should there be? A diverse approach means a diverse range of intervention on offer to our patients, and to service providers. This can be positive if we can accept one another’s differences and unite in our belief that Music Therapy really is “God”.
OUTCOMES. A dividing concept. For many, outcome measures show tangible evidence of the benefits of Music Therapy with our patients and also help us continue contracts with services. However, some delegates questioned whether the focus on outcomes changes the course of therapy in terms of changing the way the Therapist works in sessions. Other delegates commented on the ‘not knowing’ aspect of our work that can be so powerful when working with our patients and providing them with the space they need for positive change to take place. Norma Daykin, in her Plenary on the Saturday morning, asked whether Music Therapy needs a standardised evaluation framework? My answer is YES! With such a wide range of evaluation tools and outcome measures being used, the data we collect about how amazing our services are can’t be compared to other services, or measured in a standardised way. And with every healthcare provision now having to fight for funding, we need to do all that we can to evidence how credible, effective and valuable a Music Therapy service can be.
PASSION. Katrina Skewes inspired my thinking about service provisions in education settings with her zealous talk on Music Therapists being ‘passionate individuals’ in schools. Her talk focused on the idea that us as individuals are what these service providers want to invest in because of what we have to offer: a true belief in what we do. We can increase wellbeing, social connectedness, inclusion. We are flexible, we can adapt to the needs of the institution. We are specialists. Katrina also recommended that we need to think about the evidence we provide in education settings; the specific, special case studies that show what we do are more powerful than cold, quantitative data. I was so inspired by Katrina’s passion for her work, and for Music Therapy as a successful intervention in what can be such a chaotic environment at times. It also highlighted that whilst I love data, statistics and hard facts, a personal account of developments and changes I have seen are still so powerful and important when talking with service providers.
RESEARCH. A theme throughout the presentations and talks that I attended was that of the future in our field; the research we do to show how best to use Music Therapy in various settings and with patient’s needs. I found that many of my peers’ responses to this question seemed to come from a place of fear, and I wondered whether there is something negative for people about using such rigid methodology or being a ‘scientist’ rather than an ‘artist’. After all, don’t we use our artistic skills and abilities in our work, rather than rigid technique (apart from in Neurologic Music Therapy, of course!) so how does this marry with carrying out research and being so…disciplined?
As usual, I am ending this article with a question: are we becoming a divided profession?
And when will we start talking about the internet?