Being a therapist is hard work. Working as an art or music therapist is doubly hard because in addition to doing hard work, you’re constantly having to explain, evangelize and defend your work to people who have no idea what you do. ms. kris neel wrote a great post with Music Therapy info. She writes:

What is Music Therapy?

The official website for the American Music Therapy Association cites that “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

All of these factors set us apart from other musical services offered such as recreational music or music performance, so it’s important that we understand what that definition actually mean.

Music interventions and individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship: Music therapists don’t just pick a song and something fun to do with it. Each client has goals that are specific to their strengths and needs, and their music therapist will choose music interventions (based on the research!) to assist the client in reaching those goals in a safe and motivating environment. Just because it looks like fun and games doesn’t mean that’s, in fact, what it is.

She includes a couple of links to music therapy in action. I had no idea Gabby Giffords’ recovery was due in large part to Neurologic Music Therapy. I remember the story of Dilbert creator Scott Adams regaining his voice through speaking in rhyme. (Original link is dead.) Each one of us has an extremely powerful relationship to music. A song can teleport me back into a specific point in my past. I have strong associations with music and my history. Music is medicine. The TED talks Kris linked too were enlightening. She fights a good and important fight.

My wife faces this same struggle. She is an art therapist and has the same problem with people not knowing what she does. Or thinking she’s an art teacher.

She specializes in working with seniors with dementia. It’s a specialized but growing population that often gets overlooked. She chose to work with them and has focused her efforts on understanding them and tailoring her efforts to getting them involved and to stimulating their minds. In her words, “I help people use art as a way to express themselves or deal with the challenges of life.”

The goals of therapy can be different depending on who is getting the therapy and it’s a vital profession. But one that is badly misunderstood especially once you branch out from the image people have in their heads of Dr. Freud and a patient lying on a couch.

Traditional therapy cannot work for everyone. There are entire populations of people who cannot speak and tell you what they’re feeling, specifically children and the elderly with dementia.

To reach them, you need to use other therapeutic techniques such as art or music therapy. Since what do you do is the first question most people ask upon meeting, I’ve listened to my wife explain, again, what it is that she does. And no, she is not an art teacher.

I’m sure Kris gets tired of repeating herself and hopefully by now she has the “elevator pitch” of what she does. It’s a line you’ll be using a lot.