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Music Therapy Moves Out of the Basement

In 1995, Berklee's brand-new Music Therapy Department was a closet that had been converted into an office in the basement of the building at 22 The Fenway. Today the department makes its home at 7 Haviland Street, in the newly refurbished space that was formerly Fenway Health. Half of the first floor has been transformed into a classroom, Resource Center, Music Therapy Institute, and offices for music therapy faculty and staff. Here, students hone their talents to help people of all ages become healthier, more whole, better able to fulfill their goals, and on their way to living life more fully and creatively.

In its first year, I was the sole member of the department. Today, there are 10 faculty and two staff members. The community outreach and research efforts of the department have expanded so significantly that the Music Therapy Institute was established to manage the many contracts, policies, and procedures that are required for field-work sites, independent contractors like field supervisors, research projects, and grants. The institute currently oversees two generous grants from the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust and the Grousbeck Family Foundation. The Arthur Flagler Fultz Research Award also sponsored research that resulted in a recent Journal of Music Therapy article coauthored by me, field supervisor Joan Butterfield-Whitcomb, and students Mayu Kawata and Brett Collins.

Today our department is preparing nearly 100 students and interns to become music therapists. In the course of their training, our students work in different clinical settings. They gain the necessary skills and competencies to deliver music therapy services to children in special-education classrooms, older adults, individuals with psychiatric conditions, and medical patients. They also work with adolescents referred by the Department of Youth Services or with elders in their research practicum. Nearly 40 highly qualified music therapists supervise these students, a dozen of whom are Berklee graduates. The clinical settings are some of the finest educational and health-care settings in the world, including Harvard Medical School training sites and highly respected community agencies.

Upon completion of their coursework, students intern in approved clinical training facilities around the country and in Europe. Berklee students are highly sought after in these internships, and are often hired as permanent staff members after their internships. Our graduates are working in hospitals, schools, community centers, senior/nursing facilities, private practice, and other settings.

The music therapy profession is becoming more prevalent and credible as nontraditional treatments such as massage and acupuncture have entered mainstream medicine. This openness to alternative therapeutic approaches has spawned the new field of integrative medicine, and music therapy is benefitting from increased attention to this specialty and the now-recognized connection between mind and body. Berklee's music therapy program is leading the way in research and publications expounding on the impact of music on the mind, body, and soul.

New initiatives focus on innovations through technology. A course in assistive music technology for visually impaired musicians, which was developed by Professor Chi Gook Kim, enables Berklee students with visual challenges to complete the curriculum and participate in recording, writing, transcribing, and performing music through a variety of applications.

Recognizing Berklee's visionary work in technology, Visiting Professor Dr. Wendy Magee received funding in 2009 from the U.K.-based Leverhulme Trust to study the implementation of music-therapy technologies in health care and special-education settings. Her groundbreaking research at Berklee culminated in a music therapy technology symposium in 2010. The following year, Professor Richard Boulanger spearheaded an effort with faculty-student teams in Berklee's Electronic Production and Design and Music Therapy departments to create new technology solutions to meet the needs of children with special needs and to answer research questions of the Music Therapy faculty. As a result, a new specialty in electronic designs for the field of music therapy is coming into its own. In November, Berklee faculty and students will offer a continuing education institute at the American Music Therapy Association annual conference to train clinicians in these new applications.

Music therapy has worked its way out of the basement and into a highly visible and respected place in the local community and around the world. Berklee has provided the resources to support the growth of this fulfilling career, and our gifted faculty and students are building new ways to define and practice their craft. Their work helps people who otherwise might not have access to music therapy services. Slowly-one person at a time-we are making the world more healthy and musical.