Guest Post by Dena Register: {Declaring Our Independence}


Below is a guest post written by Dena Register of the Regulatory Affairs Advisor, Certification Board for Music Therapists on finding our voice as music therapists during #mtadvocacy month. Enjoy! 

The end of the year always brings with it a great deal of reflection. It feels good to look at the accomplishments of the year at its close, set new intentions and imagine new heights for the year ahead. My own professional reflections for this year brought the realization that over the last eighteen years I have enjoyed a rather diverse career in music therapy with roles as a clinician, educator, consultant and professional advocate. One of the most interesting components of wearing so many different “hats” is trying to imagine how those you are working with perceive music therapy.

There is a constant effort to try and imagine how I can best help others understand what music therapy is and the many benefits for our clients. I feel the need to have an analogy for every situation, description, and population. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this challenge. I know many music therapists that adapt in this chameleon-like fashion when it comes to how we describe our life’s work. We build rapport with our various audiences by searching for some common ground or understanding to use as a point of departure in hopes that they will have that magical “A-ha!” about the many benefits of music therapy. While these experiences help us develop remarkable skills in story sharing and empathy, we are constantly altering the description of our professional identity in order to help others understand us. This task is a complex one for professionals and is one of the challenges that both students and new professionals find difficult to navigate early on in their careers.

I get to teach a class in philosophy and theory of music therapy. Over the last several offerings of this course the students and I have spent hours exploring what music therapy has in common with other therapeutic and creative arts professions. Each semester produces fascinating discussions, diagrams and reflections on the shared aspects of our professions and, more importantly, how music therapy is notably distinct from any other profession or practice. Successful participation in our profession is reliant upon years of skilled musicianship, and a balance of both scientific and artistic knowledge and understanding. It is highly unlikely that an individual who does not have any prior musical training can make their way through varied and rigorous coursework of a music therapy degree and successfully complete the academic, clinical and musical requirements needed.

In the sixty-plus year development of our profession we have learned to be both flexible and savvy in our descriptions of music therapy. These well-honed skills have built a foundation for our profession to grow and expand in ways we didn’t think possible.  And, in most recent years, our advocacy efforts have brought us to a place of greater acknowledgement and public awareness than we have ever experienced before. What comes next? It is the era of INDEPENDENCE.

With an increased focus on research about the numerous impacts of music as a therapeutic medium, greater access to quality services by licensed professionals and continuously growing clinical offerings music therapy is positioned for continued, exponential growth. Now is the time for continued clarification to others regarding who we are as a profession as well as our unique qualifications.  In 2014, it is imperative that we declare I am a music therapist and understand how to articulate our unique qualifications and distinctions from our other therapeutic partners.  How will YOU celebrate your ‘independence’ this year?

About the Author: Dr. Dena Register is the Regulatory Affairs Advisor for the Certification Board for Music Therapists and an Associate Professor of Music Therapy at the University of Kansas. She can be reached at


We Are…Empowerers: {Titanium: I’m Bulletproof}


The new year has begun and so far 2014 has been a great year…all 6 days of it! I chose to kick off my year of therapy by co-facilitating an adult connect group through the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota last week. I was inspired to share some of the analysis of the lyrics from participants that was received. Below is the experience of epilepsy, as interpreted through the song Titanium by David Guetta.

You shout it out,
But I can’t hear a word you say
I’m talking loud not saying much

Living with epilepsy can be very isolating. The experience of having a seizure and the consequences that follow require the help of the people around us, which often comes at the expense of our own independence. There are strict guidelines for what you can and can’t do, and oftentimes, our opinion is at the bottom of the charts of diagnosis, paperwork, medicine levels, and MRI appointments.

I’m criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up

For many of us, the source of our seizures will never be found. Epilepsy is never predictable, and that means taking a myriad of medications to control the seizures. Side-effects can cause mood swings, depression, mental health problems, and weight gain. We are often judged based on these side-effects, despite the fact that taking those medications is not a choice that we have.

I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose
Fire away, fire away  

You shoot me down, but I get up                                                                                                    I am titanium                                                                                                                                                               

Losing things like our drivers license,  jobs, and independence can be tough to handle, but it also forces you to find our what you love, and how to find ways to do those things that you love. The idea of Titanium is appropriate because it is famous for it’s incredible strength. You are as strong as you think you are.

Cut me down
But it’s you who’ll have further to fall
Ghost town and haunted love

Our lifestyle choices are highly criticized, but we are the ones that decide how to spend our time, where we go, and what we do. Half of the battle is getting your family to let go and let us fend for ourselves. Waking up after having a seizure can be very confusing and often memories are just gone. Your brain feels like an old abandoned town. Sometimes it feels like you just ran a marathon the day before, and other times the only indicators are that you wet the bed, you have no idea what the date or time is, and the memories of the last week are blurry.

Raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones
I’m talking loud not saying much

Our titanium is the thing we have that makes us happy. The thing that makes it worth it. Titanium is traveling, or collecting old records, or painting, or playing soccer, or watching Netflix. Seizures aren’t planned, but finding healthy ways to cope is the first step, and they come from within us.

With that. I want to answer the statement “We Are…” about what music therapists are for social media advocacy month as


Check out all of the posts for Social Media Music Therapy Advocacy Month.

Guitar Center presents: Women Who Rock!


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I am excited to announce that on Sunday, September 15th, I will be one of the guest speakers at Guitar Center’s “Women Who Rock” event in Roseville. It is a celebration of women in the music industry, and the different roles that we play as artists and professionals. I am so honored to be asked to present on my journey to becoming a music therapist, and I’m looking forward to sharing that experience with other women who are looking into careers in music.

It is an all-day event that features live bands, gear demos, a silent auction, workshops, and guest speakers. I am presenting at noon, but come early or stay late and check out some of the exciting opportunities that will be available. Click here for more information or directions to Guitar Center.

See you there rockstars!!

Friday Favorites: {Hurry, Hurry Drive the Firetruck!}

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I have been using “Hurry, Hurry Drive the Firetruck” this week during Musical Playground in ECSE classrooms to work on goals of turn taking, joint attention, impulse control, and imitating gross motor movements. The melody is simple so kids latch on to it right away and a handbell in the key you are singing the song in serves as the focus of joint attention. Have kids imitate the gross motor movements and wait to play the bell at “ding, ding, ding, ding, ding” to work on improving impulse control. Use as many verses as needed (or as few) so that each child gets a turn to play the bell. I like to repeat the song 2-3 times so everyone has a chance to get the gross motor movements and more than one turn to play the bell.

Here is the lead sheet and lyrics:

1) Hurry, hurry drive the firetruck (3x) [make driving motion w/ hands]

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!

2) Hurry, hurry turn the corner [sway side to side as if turning corners while “steering” with hands]

3) Hurry, hurry find the fire [hands over eyes to look for the fire]

4) Hurry, hurry climb the ladder [pretend to climb up with arms]

5) Hurry, hurry save the baby [cradle pretend baby in arms]

6) Hurry, hurry squirt the water [pretend to hold a hose and spray water all around]

7) Slowly, slowly, back to the station [“steer” slowly]

Hope you have a fun time pretending to be firefighters with this Friday Favorite!

{Autism Awareness Day!}


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April is one of my favorite months of the year. The sun shines once again for a solid 12 hours, April Fools Day is observed, AND most importantly, it’s Autism Awareness month! Over the last five years, I have had the privilege of getting to know some of the most unique, fun, challenging, and loving individuals I have ever worked with. Yes, they all have things that “link” them together and give them a common diagnosis, but each client has a different personality, favorite activities, and lessons to teach all of us. Music is a way to express individuality in a setting that is positive and successful. My clients can participate in a meaningful experience that is engaging and work on goal areas such as gross, fine, cognitive, and regulatory skills.

“Music has the advantage of demanding attention that a visual stimulus cannot, because it intrudes immediately through ears that cannot be closed voluntarily.”       -Hanser

Hanser’s observation explains why music therapists can effectively help clients achieve goals in a variety of areas. For example, if one of my clients is having a hard time slowing down his body, we will choose a song together, and he will jump on a trampoline while hitting a paddle drum that I move around. The client may not respond to a visual for “calm body” but with music, I can meet the client where he is and using the iso-principle, bring him to the calm body that will be necessary for him to be ready for kindergarten.

The actual goal we were working toward may read “L will participate in filling in the blanks of a song sung by the therapist for 90% of opportunities with minimal assistance”. In the meantime, the secondary gains that are built in to the therapeutic music intervention include  gross motor goals by crossing midline and bilateral movement, visual tracking, breath control, and self-regulation. The client is able to build self-esteem by participating in a meaningful activity, creating rapport with an adult figure, and responding to bids for interaction (socialization!) with the therapist.

Musical experiences are positive so people participate because they are enjoyable and successful. They learn to seek out and trust the therapist because that is needed for the experience to be successful for the client. Individuals that engage in positive creative efforts gain self-control and create a healthy emotional outlet.

Happy Autism Awareness Day!

MN Music Therapy Day on the Hill 2013

photo (3)For the past two years, I have had the privilege of meeting some of my Minnesota legislators with groups of my music therapy colleagues at Day on the Hill. The purpose of Day on the Hill is to educate legislators on what music therapy is and advocate for music therapy. In addition, we have specifically advocated for a music therapy licensure bill in the two years that I have been involved.


We’ve posted before on why music therapy advocacy is important and how to advocate here. In today’s post, I will focus on why we are seeking a music therapy licensure bill in Minnesota.

What is licensure, you may ask? The answer will differ by state. In Minnesota, licensure in Minn Stat. sec214.001 is defined as:

“a system whereby a practitioner must receive recognition by the state of having met predetermined qualifications, and persons not so licensed are prohibited from practicing. (Title and scope of practice restriction.)” 

Some of the legislators we met with wanted to know why licensure was necessary for music therapists since we already have a Certification Board for Music Therapists. There are several reasons why we want to see a music therapy licensure law passed in Minnesota. Below are a couple of the reasons.

1) Protection for Clients – Licensure would protect clients from treatment that may be potentially harmful to clients from individuals that misrepresent themselves as “music therapists” but are not board-certified music therapists (e.g. non-music therapy musician)

2) Access to Music Therapy Services – Some state agencies require providers to be state recognized. Licensure would provide the necessary state recognition for clients and families seeking access to music therapy services.

Licensure would also define music therapist’s scope of practice at the state level to prevent conflict or confusion with other practitioners.  Music therapy licensure does not mean that music therapists are claiming all use of music during sessions as our own. Rather, licensure will protect clients and allow for more access to music therapy services while increasing awareness of music therapy to clients and other allied health professionals.

This week, I have talked with several friends that said they knew someone who uses music therapy. Sounds great, right? However, in each case, the person that was using “music therapy” was not a music therapist. They may be using music as medicine or using music therapeutically, but playing a song on the piano or creating a playlist on an ipod alone is not music therapy!

Every time I hear these stories, I give this example: I can’t go around saying that I do physical therapy or that I am a physical therapist just because I lead movement to music as part of my music therapy sessions. Music therapists have training in music, psychology, anatomy, therapeutic skills, and group management. In order to be board-certified, we have to complete a 6 month internship and 1200+ hours of music therapy experience. We take a client from assessment, planning, treatment, progress notes, to termination while working on goals that are most relevant to the client’s quality of life.

We would like to thank Senator Rosen and Representative Dorholt, the chief authors in the Minnesota Senate and House, respectively for their work on the music therapy licensure bill.

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Left to Right: Music Therapists Kathy Nelson, Melissa Hirokawa, Claire Klein, and Representative Zachary Dorholt

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Left to Right: Music Therapists Andrea Yun-Springer, Melissa Hirokawa, MTAM President Peter Meyer with Senator Julie Rosen

We hope 2014 is the year that a music therapy licensure law will be passed in Minnesota. Until then, we will keep up our work in advocating for and educating on music therapy!

State of MN – Frequently Asked Questions About Licensure

Music Therapy Advocacy: {On the Daily}


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I was having coffee with a friend of mine last weekend who is a candidate in the Master’s of Social Work program at the U of M. She mentioned that last week in one of her classes the instructor brought in a documentary and talked about incorporating “music therapy” into social work practice. As in, the social work students could be using recorded music in sessions and calling it “music therapy”.

A student then asked the instructor, “So is music therapy an actual profession then, or what is it?”. No one had an answer in class and the instructor proceeded to say that she thought it was, but wasn’t sure about the training requirements, etc. That was it. No clarification, no google.

Unfortunately, I hear these stories myself or via friends and family all to often. In this instance, my friend was willing to give me her instructor’s contact information so I can pass on the definition of music therapy according to the American Music Therapy Association, “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.”

We’re lucky in MN to also have a great state organization and I can give this instructor a list of music therapists in MN that are in private practice as well. I know several music therapists that would offer at the drop of a hat to guest lecture on how music therapists and social workers can collaborate in various settings.

All of this reminded me once again that while we have social media music therapy advocacy month, it is also important to always be willing to educate in a positive way. Believe me, I do not usually feel like smiling when hosts on Minnesota Public Radio start throwing around the term “music therapy” when describing an iPod playlist. So, having a few bullet points that differentiate music therapy vs. music as therapy (like this great post by Metro Music Therapy!) in addition to the “elevator talk” version of what you do as a music therapist can help clarify and inform.

That said, I’m excited to advocate for music therapy tomorrow at MN Music Therapy Day on the Hill 2013! I’ll get to meet with a Senator and Representatives from my work and home districts to advocate for music therapy licensure in MN. I’ll save the reasons why we support music therapy licensure until our post on Day on the Hill later this week. Hope to see you back here then!

Client Success Story: {L}


January is Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy month. Throughout the month, music therapists are sharing personal stories, tips, and advice to advocate for music therapy. Today’s client success story is brought to you by one of our music therapists, Lyndie Walker.

*Name of the client has been changed 

Success stories: L’s story

Lake McCarrons

Lake McCarrons (Photo credit: Jvstin)

For the last few summers, I have had the privilege of working at an overnight camp for kids and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The kids spend a week fishing, crafting, biking, and swimming among many other things.

Most of the kids bring favorite books, movies, toys, etc. and my camper for the week, L., was no exception. She brought around ten fidgets (small toys used for sensory input) and a cd player with a case of her favorite music. One of CDs was a mix of songs that her sister had made for her. It was a WIDE variety…from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to Bad Romance by Lady Gaga. The CD was all of her favorite music that she was familiar with. This also meant that L. had memories attached to the music that made her feel safe: her bedroom, comfy living room couch, and family. The attachment to the CD from home was one of the great ways she was able to deal with unfamiliar challenges at camp.

Naturally, the waterfront is the most popular time of the day at camp. The kids can go tubing, swimming, or paddle boating. However, the most popular attraction at the waterfront were the pontoon rides. L., loved going for boat rides. She loved the feel of the wind in her hair and warm sun on her face.

The problem with boat rides is that you have to walk on a very unsteady dock to get to the boat. This caused a lot of anxiety for L. and ultimately, she wasn’t able to go on the boat rides. On the second day of camp, we headed back down to the docks. This time, I held both of L.’s hands and kept eye contact. As we got closer to the docks I started softly singing Rudolph. Her eyes locked on mine and she slowly continued to follow me down the dock. After repeating the Rudolph chorus one too many times, I moved on to Bad Romance, hoping the endless hours of top 100 radio I listened to wouldn’t fail me. Luckily, we made it to the pontoon before I had to hit any high notes with Gaga, and Lucy had a successful trip on the boat!

It may not seem like much at times, but the transition songs that we can provide and teach caregivers to use with clients can help them be successful in daily life. I am very grateful to be a part of client’s growth through music therapy!

2013 Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month


Image via Groovy Garfoose

Do you advocate for music therapy? January is Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month and Toneworks Music Therapy is excited to share what we are and have been doing to advocate for music therapy! The Music Therapy Maven shares why advocacy is important for us as clinicians and for our clients. Here are a few ways that we advocate for music therapy!

1) The Little Things

Every time someone asks me “what do you do for a living?”, I take the opportunity and go into my “elevator speech” version of what music therapy is and what music therapy looks like. Usually people will respond with, “oh, I have a cousin who plays the piano for people at a nursing home too” or “are you going to play your violin/viola for me so I can feel happy?”.

I find that people understand more clearly what music therapy is when I explain that the results are not about the music. However, the music facilitates the physical, social/emotional, and cognitive changes that the music therapists assesses and plans for the client. In addition, specific examples that relate to the person I’m talking to (e.g. do they have a loved one that was in hospice or a child that is on the Autism Spectrum) and how music therapy would help in that specific situation helps people understand how music therapy works.

2) The Not-so-Little Things

In opening our private practice we have been giving in-services to many facilities and parent groups. In these presentations we have a powerpoint about what music therapy is and what credentials we have along with music therapy research that supports what we do in sessions. We usually have an experiential portion as well so parents can see what their children are capable of and how music can be used to get children to interact, move, and learn. We do not expect everyone to choose us as their music therapist and we get excited when parents ask us for music therapists in their area!

This Saturday, we are also excited to advocate for music therapy at a local health & fitness expo. We will be spreading the word how music therapy can be used for wellness and prevention, development in children and adults, and maintenance for older adults. We will have lots of examples of therapeutic music interventions, instruments, and AMTA fact sheets to help people understand how music therapy can have a positive effect on their lives.

3) The Big Things

Getting involved at the state level to participate in Day on the Hill to speak with legislators about licensure is one way of advocating for music therapy on a large scale. We are excited to participate in MN this spring for the Day on the Hill. Sharing personal stories of how we impact lives is an important part of advocacy. If you invite lawmakers to participate in music therapy social media advocacy month, even better! If you’re on twitter be sure to use #lovemusictherapy and #MTadvocacy when sharing during MT social media advocacy month.

These are just a few ways to advocate for music therapy in person and in social media. We are excited for the growth in our field and in awareness of what music therapy can do for clients during January. We are looking forward to posting client success stories during the month of January on our blog.

Happy advocating!