12th April, 2023
It’s World Music Therapy Week (April 10-15, 2023) so there’s no better time to focus on the great work of Registered Music Therapists and the incredible discipline they have developed, harnessing the benefits of music in a very particular way. We are happy to share two features this week, in this first article we ask Bridgit Hogan, CEO of the Australian Music Therapy Association, five questions about what this all means to her and the profession she represents.
We often hear about the health benefits of music making and how it transforms lives. Can you tell us about Music Therapy and how that is different from music making in general?
Unlike music making, lessons or entertainment, the main goal of music therapy is to promote better health outcomes, participation, independence and improved quality of life. Whilst music therapy sessions look fun, engaging or at times even entertaining, the goals are often to address chronic health needs.
The therapeutic process through which this is achieved is complex and sophisticated. Already highly skilled and advanced musicians, Australia’s 700 Registered Music Therapists (RMTs) engage a number of evidenced based and targeted music therapy techniques that activate complex neurological structures to influence behaviour, improve cognition, communication, motor function and control, reduce pain, depression and anxiety, and develop emotional awareness and competency etc.
Like music itself, a music therapy session can be powerful and transformative. So, when using music with vulnerable or chronically unwell individuals, RMTs’ competence, specialised skills and advanced knowledge around healthy and unhealthy uses of music is essential.
What motivates Registered Music Therapists in their work?
All RMTs are passionate about music. For most of their lives they have in one way or another engaged intensely and intimately with music whether through hours and hours of daily practice, family gatherings, community engagement in choirs, bands or orchestras, or perhaps even through music guided meditation. Over the course of their careers, RMTs have been constantly motivated by the profound and life changing moments experienced by their clients during music therapy sessions.
For me, I remember working in intensive care with a 13 year old female who had been in a coma for many months following a car accident. I was at her bedside playing live and familiar music paying particular attention to pitch, tempo, volume and phrasing. Over the course of the session, her breathing and oxygen saturation levels changed, and eventually she slowly opened her eyes and started to mouth the lyrics of the song. From that moment onwards, music therapy remained a core component of her rehabilitation supporting her to achieve her physical and communication goals. Moments like these are motivating and extraordinary yet not uncommon in music therapy sessions. But more often than not, RMTs are motivated by their own lived experiences when music therapy has profoundly impacted their lives or that of their loved ones.
What kind of training and registration do Registered Music Therapists have to go through?
RMTs in Australia have graduated from a music therapy course accredited by the AMTA and, in addition, must adhere to AMTA’s Code of Conduct and Practice Standards, and continue to meet the AMTA competency standards through compulsory participation in a rigorous professional development program.
Currently there are two courses accredited by AMTA in Australia – the Master of Music Therapy at The University of Melbourne and the Master of Creative Music Therapy at Western Sydney University. Both courses have four streams focusing on advanced knowledge of research, theory, methods and clinical training. The courses support practitioners to learn how to use music (live and recorded) as a therapeutic modality through selecting, improvising, composing and arranging music with and for patients to meet individual and group needs. The courses also include study of the professional development and history of music therapy and the various theoretical constructs and methodologies that inform clinical work.
The focus is on a thorough and formal understanding of the clinical issues that practitioners need to manage as well as their professional and ethical responsibilities. Students are required to undertake external clinical placements as part of their training and work with people across all stages of the life span from premature babies to the elderly. These placements are supervised by RMTs in hospitals, schools, residential care and the community. In addition to clinical placements, students are engaged with reflective practice and critical thinking processes through research.
AMTA also meets the strict and robust regulatory requirements of the National Alliance for Self-Regulating Health Professions (NASRHP). This ensures AMTA’s governance framework is equivalent to other registered allied health professions (such as physiotherapists, social workers, psychologists, speech pathologists etc) and increases consumer confidence in the safe and ethical practice of RMTs.
Do you think Registered Music Therapists are recognised and taken seriously enough as a profession?
The recognition of music therapy as an evidenced based allied health profession has come such a long way since AMTA’s inception in 1975. RMTs are now core members of the multidisciplinary team in paediatric and acute hospitals as well as many residential aged and palliative care facilities, schools and the community.
Music therapy is also an approved government funded support in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Commonwealth Home Support Program, Home Care Packages, and the Victorian Mental Health in Schools program. Most state- based health professional awards also include RMTs. In addition to AMTA’s advocacy efforts, music therapy’s recognition is due to the comprehensive and expanding body of research supporting music therapy’s positive impact on health outcomes. It is also due to the professional, highly skilled and competent RMTs that graduate from AMTA’s accredited music therapy courses.
However, whilst AMTA has made significant gains advocating for and advancing the Australian music therapy profession, there is still much work to be done to promote more equitable access to music therapy for Australia’s most vulnerable. AMTA is currently prioritising its resources to advocate for inclusion in the Medicare funded Better Access Scheme, inclusion in the GST Act as a GST free listed service, and the funding of music therapy as a core service for residential aged care (recommendation # 38, Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Final Report).
In the recent National Cultural Policy, Music Therapy was specifically acknowledged and some funding was made available for projects. What else could we do to bring the benefits of Music Therapy to more people in Australia?
Music therapy’s inclusion in the National Cultural Policy (Revive) was a big win for music therapy and for current and potential consumers of music therapy. Under this Policy, $4.2 million of pilot project funding will support access to art and music therapy programs. AMTA will continue to collaborate with the Australian Government to ensure that the pilot projects achieve policy outcomes and create culturally safe places for connection and community through music therapy.
AMTA is committed to advancing and advocating for equitable access to music therapy and has prioritised resources to achieve this. But this will only be fully realised if we do this in partnership with our members, consumers, policy makers, stakeholders and friends including Australian Music Association. It is only when we work collectively can we champion music therapy, raise awareness of its transformative powers and help to improve the lives of Australia’s most vulnerable.
For more information about Music Therapy in Australia, see www.austmta.org.au