How Important are Music Skills for the Music Therapist?
As an educator and clinical supervisor, the question regarding the importance of music skills on the part of music therapists continues to repeat itself. How important is it for the music therapist to have a high level of music skills? And, what does high level mean? And furthermore, are functional skills enough? And, what does functional mean? I have experienced a huge divide in how music therapists view these questions. This topic and these questions have nothing to do with clinical orientation or philosophical beliefs, and yet there is a huge discrepancy in how we (music therapy profession) view the importance of music skills on the part of the therapist. (Please note that I’m using the term music skills as opposed to musical skills; which is a completely different skill).
Because we as MTs are using music, and all of its dimensions, does that not also give us the clinical responsibility of understanding the language of music, theoretically and practically? How can we fully understand the clinical potential of music if we are limited in the area of musicianship? To that end, if musicianship is somewhat lacking, does that mean that sessions may be being built around the therapist’s musical strengths, weakness, and preferences? And, if so, whose needs are we meeting? Is the music client-centered or therapist-centered? (Aren’t there some ethical implications that need to be considered here?)
In pondering questions regarding therapists music skill level, I think about how I might feel if I were a client in talk therapy, and the therapist had a difficult time expressing him or herself in words, and because of this, he/she also had a hard time understanding my verbal and non-verbal expressions. How would that alter the therapy process? How would the therapeutic relationship unfold if I’m unable to trust that I’m being heard, understood and/or listened too? In addition, how would I feel if the therapist was building the sessions around his communicative strengths and weaknesses? And finally, if this process is occurring, what’s going on with the therapist, emotionally? Is he/she feeling this pressure due to a lack of understand and expression? And if so, how does that play out in the therapy process?
Within the field of MT I can certainly see how there can be various clinical views, orientations, beliefs, “truths” and philosophies regarding music therapy, however, how is it possible to not see eye-to-eye on the importance of music skill level for MTs? Yes, I know that we have musical competencies that accredited universities and colleges abide by, however, is it really enough? The Board Certification Exam includes music theory questions; however, how do those questions evaluate music skills? Simply put, how important is it that music therapists can play and understand music? And, at what level????
Thanks for reading. I look forward to your reply!