Advocacy can help open doors, produce opportunities for growth, expand your horizons, and grow your personal and professional network.
That said, advocacy is also not without its challenges. Over the course of the past decade, music therapists have been faced with responding to misinformed, potentially damaging comments that can serve to undermine the profession and services we provide, all while striving to continue to move forward with advocacy efforts that make a positive difference. These negative exchanges can lead to feelings of frustration, stress, and even anger – and serve to potentially distract us from focusing on our clients and our work.
In light of the contentiousness that seems to surround legislative and policy issues, we propose incorporating a spirit of mindfulness in your advocacy efforts. Mindfulness is defined as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” Mindfulness requires an awareness of our attitudes, feelings, thoughts, and actions; an understanding of how they impact our experiences and behaviors; and a willingness to take responsibility for our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.
For more about mindfulness, listen to the EVOLVE podcast on iTunes or kalanidas.com.
To that end, we offer the following guide to assist you in your search of an advocacy zen space and ask…when have you been REACTIVE or PROACTIVE in your advocacy efforts?
Scenario 1: When feeling REACTIVE to a misinformed comment, demeaning question, or misleading blog post…
How to react from an advocacy zen space:
Step 1 – Perceive. Notice the feeling and visceral reaction you are experiencing. Be aware of your physiological response to the situation. We often experiences feelings of enhanced energy or “heat” when reacting. Where is the feeling in your body?
Step 2 – Process. Implement coping strategies to help you process through your reaction and self-regulate. Take a slow, measured breath, count to 10, or walk away from the situation and take a break. Sometimes, even just acknowledging that you’re upset or feeling anxious can help reduce the anxiety associated with the experience. Any time you feel stress, it’s important to allow yourself to “feel the feeling,” without judgment or “shaming” yourself for feeling what you feel.
Step 3 – Respond. Be intentional in what you say and do in response to the situation. Redirect the conversation to the main focus: the client. Use non-violent communication (NVC) when responding to others. For example, don’t use language that includes blaming, shaming, or labeling others or their behavior. Instead, describe the situation and look for a solution. Remember: Everyone is doing the best they can – and we don’t know what we don’t know. It’s been my experience that education goes a long way in helping to resolve issues. If someone needs to vent, let them and move on.
I’ve met some fantastic, passionate, creative people when advocating for music therapy. When responding to someone who was claiming to be providing music therapy services (without being a music therapist), I discovered that this person had created some wonderful music education strategies for special needs students. Rather than approach him in a negative way, saying, “You can’t call that music therapy!” I listened to his stories and validated his PURPOSE, which was to help students through his music classes. I even invited him to consider presenting at a regional music therapy conference.
Remember that many musicians, including those who work with sensitive or special needs populations, don’t know why it’s not appropriate to call what they do music therapy. Most people assume that music therapy is using music to help someone feel better. It makes sense to them. The education process takes time and compassion. As music therapists, we want to create allies, not enemies, and we want advocates who will recommend music therapy when recreational and educational experiences are not enough.
Super Tip: Rather than focusing on why someone shouldn’t call what they do music therapy, focus on what they CAN call it. For example, someone can offer “therapeutic music” or “musical relaxation experiences.” Perhaps you can help non-music therapists find a way to describe their work, so instead of “loosing,” they’re “switching.”
Scenario 2: When being PROACTIVE by taking initiative in advocating for the profession and our clients…
How to react from an advocacy zen space:
Step 1 – Visualize. Begin with the end of mind. Imagine what your ideal outcome would be without barriers and challenges. Envision your goal or purpose. What is the ideal scenario?
Step 2 – Develop. Focus on the strengths of your current situation as you design your strategy. What is working for you? What’s going well? What do you have that you can build upon? When talking to potential clients, talk about your successes. A lot of business owners tell stories about how they helped their clients.
Step 3 – Accept. Approach your plan with an attitude of acceptance. Though you begin with the end in mind, you may not know the path to get there or the obstacles that may occur. Be open to and accepting of the options and possibilities that are presented to you. Let the client solve their own puzzles, with your help. Your client knows what they want, although they might need you to help them form an actionable plan. Remember: A lot of people are still just finding out about music therapy. They often have ideas about MT that are incorrect or incomplete. They need you to help them understand the profession.
As the music therapy profession continues to move forward in its advocacy efforts, we encourage you to be mindful in your reactive responses and proactive endeavors. We cannot control the vitriol and negativity that seems common to the political climate, but we can control and take responsibility for our own reactions and responses. Let’s continue in our efforts from this intentional advocacy zen space.
For more about music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association