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An Aspiring Music Therapist's Volunteer Experience with Miya Music Therapy - By Stephanie An

Going into this summer, I have had the opportunity to shadow two separate music therapists at Miya Music Therapy and had no idea what to expect! As an aspiring music therapist still in my undergrad, my knowledge goes as far as introductory courses and extra readings within textbooks and articles on music therapy. However, when it came to hands-on experience, I found it is much different than reading facts within a textbook.

Volunteering at two Adult Day Programs allowed me to experience two completely different environments. Since each group was in the general Toronto area, there were distinctive cultural differences within each program. This exposed me to sessions with clients with language barriers which was something I hadn’t even thought about in music therapy! I learned that even with a language barrier, music is still an amazing tool to use to engage clients, even if they do not understand the language, they communicate through the music!

One Adult Day Program I observed consisted of a group of clients with varying degrees of cognitive functioning, while another program I observed consisted of two separate group sessions which split the clients based on their level of functioning. This allowed me to observe possible interventions to meet client needs within different group dynamics.

I am currently attending McMaster University as a clarinet major, and was very surprised to find out that the two music therapists I was paired with were also clarinetists! Considering there aren’t many of us out there, this was a pleasant surprise! Both music therapists mentioned that they don’t use their clarinets in sessions, however, I was able to observe them using it during my volunteering experience. They used the clarinet for a “guess the song” intervention. The goal was to allow clients to engage in cognitive stimulation as well as reminiscence through triggered memories of songs from their past. I could see the uplifted mood of some clients when guessing a song correctly!  

The most unique experience for me was being able to sit in on one to one sessions with the music therapist and client. As three out of the five sessions I observed were groups, it was nice to see the practice in a more intimate setting. It was really interesting to observe clients engage in clinical improvisation and see their progress through the weeks. I noticed their hesitation at first, and their gradual comfort with exploring instruments and taking risks. The experience was very heartwarming and reassured me how much music can change lives!

The most important thing I’ve learned over the summer was the fact that not every session is going to go as planned. Prior to each session, both therapists and I discussed what they had planned for the week and what their goals were for the sessions. However, as the session occurred, things inevitably needed to change to meet client needs. This was when improvisation skills and adaptability were needed on the spot.

Overall, the experience was amazing and I wouldn’t ask for anything else! Both music therapists were very supportive and informative, making me feel less worried about my future plans. They both really showed me how the practice looks in a real-life scenario and did not hesitate to explain anything that I was confused about. Each therapist created a very safe space for the clients and me throughout the sessions and most definitely made me certain that I want to pursue music therapy as a career. 

- Stephanie An


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