Guest Post by Em Gordon: Are We The Same? – A personal reflection.

In the grand scheme of things, I am still a newly qualified Music Therapist. Some may disagree with this statement, but nonetheless this is how I feel.

I have been told that I have a different way of writing, one which I learnt to change and adapt during my training course, but now I am qualified and out of the strict confines of academia I am writing in a manner and way I feel most comfortable.  I enjoy blogging, I always have, and it is an activity I feel passionate about, even more so since I have moved to America.  Which is why when I discovered Ellie had started this blog I jumped at the chance to connect, and made it my purpose to meet her at Conference in April. To then discover we had met previously, which should be of no surprise really!  One thing I noticed whilst researching the country I would be moving to, was the number of Music Therapy bloggers out there, and the different medians they use – YouTube, Blogger, WordPress – and what they wrote about. Anything from promoting their own private practice, sharing of resources through to personal  and professional views.


I moved to America with my now-husband in September 2015. I qualified in 2014 from one of the UK training courses and although I had asked questions back then about working in other countries I don’t believe I ever through that it would become a reality for myself. Beginning of 2015 Hubster was offered an amazing opportunity to work in Washington State, one we considered very carefully.

  • I had recently qualified and had a small resume in regards to work
  • We had no restrictions in moving abroad, it actually would make most sense to try relocating at this point in our lives
  • He would have the most amazing professional opportunities
  • Can I work in the US?

The last one was the most important:

Can I work in the United States? Can I work as a Music Therapist in the United States? In Washington State?

Simple answer – Yes, my visa enables it, and yes I can work towards becoming Board-Certified (a process I am still going through).


Fast forward to September 2015 and I relocated my life, with every expectation to enjoy 3 months getting to know my new home, join clubs or societies and make new friends. In reality what happened was I lasted 2 weeks before I emailed each organisation I found which had a Music Therapy department to ask if I could come and visit, volunteer, observe. Anything to ensure I did not lose the person I am, was, am.  Thankfully one person replied, we met, we talked, and came up with a plan for me to observe some sessions and then re-evaluate what would most benefit each other.

I am thankful that this facility, a non-profit music school, employs great staff, in particular the Music Therapists I have met.  The need to be able to hold open, frank and sometimes difficult conversations was vital to my understanding on how I could adapt whilst still maintaining the therapist in me.  The person I began to become during and after my training.  The person I continually hope to become.


However; I remember wanting to flee!


The training I undertook in the UK was quite psychodynamic in its approach and teaching, with a lot of improvisation and emphasis on relating how we worked to theories and/or approaches we read and researched.  Let’s throw some words out here which many of us find important:

Confidentiality; Holding; Boundaries; Containment; Attachment; Unconditional Positive Regard; etc

I missed and still miss using these words in discussion following sessions. The Music Therapy sessions I observed blew my mind. Remembering back 7 months, I thought what I had seen was similar to a music lesson, educational music, listening to music and I really struggled to understand and see where the therapy aspect was. Where was the play, the boundaries, the improvisation? What theories influence the therapeutic decisions being made during the session? Why do they sub for each other if they have other commitments such as vacations?

I saw sessions where inside I jumped for joy because I interpreted a section of shared music play as a huge social development and was surprised when during the session this was interpreted as dysregulation and the activity ended. I saw sessions which were song after song without a change in tempo, dynamic, break or space. I saw sessions where people came into the session to borrow instruments, to ask questions, to say hi or to check that things were okay! I had never seen sessions like these before in the UK. It was all new to me!

This is where a frank, honest, open discussion was vital. Not just for myself, but for everyone. If this is the way music therapy is provided, then I needed to know the why’s, the theories, the reasoning’s behind it. How was I to adapt? Where does the line come before I adapt too far that I feel I’ve lost myself over it?

I was also in another position of which I could only be an observer/participant – my work permit had not yet been granted and I could not volunteer in a role which should be a paid position.

Therefore, how much could I question? Not only was I worried about overstepping, but also that I did not want to offend my colleagues! Yet still, I did not understand what I was observing.

This fear, this uncertainty, this uneasy feeling I had, made me question my own training course. Had I wasted two years of my life to qualify for a profession I feel passionate about? Could I ever actually work in this profession? Is a psychological approach to music therapy an incorrect way to practice? Could I stop thinking about child development, stop wanting to know more about the whole person and their families, stop thinking that I had completely misunderstood all those theories? Am I musically “good enough” – a phrase I hadn’t heard in a while – to work in this country? The emphasis on guitar and piano is sky-high, playing sheet music during a session whilst still concentrating on clients is difficult! Why is music therapy fun, all the time?

Reading back over my words to this point, makes me cringe. Am I moaning or am I finally letting out pent up frustration?  I think a bit of both.

The 2nd BAMT Conference was held in April 2016, and I looked forward to seeing not only my peers and ex-colleagues but also to try and find myself again. My work permit finally arrived just prior to leaving for the UK to attend this, and I signed a contract to start working at the same facility as I had been a participate/observer at.  I had some hesitations, the biggest was whether I would fit in not.


Was I too different?


One thing I learnt whilst at Conference was how much I did fit in.  That my thoughts, processes, theories are current and up to date with that of Music Therapists in the UK.  I felt invigorated, and ready to return to the States in May, ready to hit the road running with my clients. Maybe I was overly optimistic at fitting in, however I remain positive.

I’ve now been working as a Music Therapist in the States for two months, I am also further down the road towards completing my Alternate Admissions Procedure to become a MT-BC, a Board Certified Music Therapist which is similar to the UK’s HCPC.

Within this short space of time, I had adapted in more ways than I thought I ever would. My boundaries are less strict, I am less psychodynamic in my approach, I use less improvisation in sessions and I have adapted how I write progress notes and the style of my clients’ goals.  My musicianship skills have increased in standard, I play guitar and piano regularly in sessions and by this I mean songs or music rather than improvising. I sight-read/sing from sheet music, I use visual timetables and written schedules occasionally, I use props such as puppets and storybooks, and I invite the music teachers to ask me questions about what they hear from outside the therapy room.

I am still a Music Therapist.

Supervision is different and less than I was used to in the UK, I work alongside’s who, with further training, are Neurologic Music Therapists which is an area currently unfamiliar to me, and I work with’s unused to using improvisation within sessions.  These are people who have also adapted since I’ve been working alongside them, less wary of questions I have, interns who ask for books on improvisation – out comes Wigram’s Improvisation! I refer back to typical child development regularly, and attachment theory therefore Bowlby and Winnicott are often found in my bag.

I have experience in only one facility in the States, until I have my MT-BC accreditation I am unable to apply for other positions.  This means I have only observed a small handful of therapists’ work, in one State, in one area of that State.  I therefore have a skewed understanding of Music Therapy over here and it is important to remember that this is a personal reflection.

There are others who have relocated here, or to other countries who have had differing experiences, but one thing I have learnt is how important it is to remain open minded, respectful of others, and willingness to continue to learn, adapt and discover areas of yourself.

Are We The Same?

Yes and No – we are all Music Therapists, however we have different approaches and experiences, different trainings and areas of interest.


It will be interesting to see how I fit, how I practice, and how I feel in future months. There are aspects of myself as a Music Therapist which I am discovering I am reluctant to change, areas of my practice which I have no control over which I may disagree with, and I look forward to discovering what may happen.


People to make contact with if you happen to decide on relocating to the States include

AMTA – American Music Therapy Association

Certification Board for Music Therapists – MT-BC

Your local branch of the AMTA


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Em Gordon Written by:

Em is a recent graduate from Guildhall School of Music who now lives in Washington State, America. Em continues to work as a Music Therapist and is going through the Alternate Admissions Procedure to enable her to take the Board Exams to become a MT-BC (Music Therapist Board Certified). She is currently working within a Non-Profit Music School which serves the Eastside of Seattle, and provides Music Therapy to children through to the elderly with many diagnosis' including ASD and Learning Disabilities. Em provides the weekday "I Love Music" classes to children up to age 4 both within the Music School and at a Local Pre-School, and is also teaching the Ukulele. Em has an interest in Child Development and Family Work, including Attachment within Adoptive Families.


  1. Becky White
    July 24, 2016

    Very interesting thanks for this, perhaps a subject that needs to talked about more often.

    • ellieruddock
      September 8, 2016

      Thanks for your feedback, Becky. I definitely feel that Em has introduced us to a subject that is talked about so little but probably applies to many Music Therapists. I’ve asked Em to give us regular updates as to how her journey develops!

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