Alumni Interview with Andrew A. Stewart
|Photo by Sarah Logemann|
What are some of the major achievements of your career?
I currently run a music therapy program at a major hospital/outpatient clinic, which I designed, proposed and implemented myself. I have contributed a chapter, based on my research in a book called Music Therapy in the NICU (neo-natal intensive care unit), which contains other contributions from the field's leading therapists in the population. I presented this work at a national conference on neonatal music therapy in New York last year. In pursuit of my music therapy degree I was awarded the Gary Burton Music Therapy Scholarship. After completing the coursework and internship I gained certification from the Certification Board for Music Therapy.
Prior to pursuing my degree in Music Therapy, I had actually received my Bachelors degree in Electronic Production and Design from the college two years earlier. I was also a Berklee Entering Student Talent (B.E.S.T.) scholarship recipient.
What made you decide to pursue music therapy as a career?
When asked, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" a child rarely responds with "I want to be a music therapist!" I was 25 years old with a degree in music before I discovered a field that reflected both my personality and my overall musical intentions. In some way every musician tries to use music to assist others. Whether we compose, produce, arrange or perform, all of us carry a certain degree of responsibility to our art. Going to Berklee for my first degree helped reinforce my sense of responsibility to music.
I was working as a musician in Los Angeles when I started to loose sight of the sense of purpose I had once maintained as a young artist. It is easy to get caught up in money, fame, glamour, power and all of the other "side effects," of a successful career in music. In my search for something more meaningful, I had learned that Berklee had recently begun a music therapy degree. I called my alma mater and spoke to the department chair Dr. Suzanne Hanser. She described to me a career in which one could utilize music to help those in need. She spoke of a national association, a strong foundation in clinical research and of the many populations that were currently benefiting from the practice. She also spoke of the field's recent exponential growth and the impending need for more music therapists. Within a week I was back in Boston and back in class.
My introduction to the field was guided by leading experts. There are many different ways to conduct the therapy and the department was structured so that the students would have access to all of the philosophies regardless of professional opinion. Within a semester I was doing the work in local facilities and seeing the benefits of my studies. In a short period of time I became totally immersed in the pursuit of helping others with music and I have the music therapy department at Berklee to thank for it.
What is a normal day like in your line of work (assuming there is such a thing as a normal day)?
Each day is a little bit different for each music therapist and this is due to two distinct variables: 1) What population you work with, and 2) How you choose to conduct the therapy. A music therapy strategy can be as individual as the person conducting it. While there are definite guidelines to the research and a strong foundation in clinical practice, one of the greatest aspects of the field is one's ability to utilize their inherent individuality in their work. Creativity remains as one of the most important factors a therapist can maintain.
I currently work for an outpatient cancer center that is part of the nations largest healthcare provider. People of all ages come in for varying types of treatment. Since there is no "typical," day, the best I can do is describe yesterday.
Yesterday I arrived a little early to conduct a session. For the past couple of weeks I have been playing keyboards for a man in his seventies who is receiving radiation treatment. He has to wear a very restricting mask to hold his head in place and this, along with the high tech machines and having to be alone in the room makes him very anxious. I played for him, via intercom while I watched his respiratory rate via video camera from the control area. He has experienced much less anxiety since the therapy has started and will not go through a procedure without it.
After that session I went upstairs to assist a conscious sedation / bone marrow biopsy with a seven year old boy. This is a procedure that involves sedating a child so that bone marrow can be removed from his/her vertebrae. It can be very painful and scary for a child to endure. I played guitar, sang and utilized other relaxing instrumentation mostly in a lull-a-bye format. I did this for many reasons 1) It has been shown to reduce the amount of sedative needed to complete the procedure thus limiting potentially harmful side effects. 2) Music therapy has been shown to reduce perceived levels of pain 3) It can give the child a sense of security and normalize his/her environment thereby reducing stress and anxiety. 4) The child's parents where present and they where able to experience a good deal of comfort from knowing that the medical staff is interested in more than just the child's illness. 5) The medical staff receives the benefits as the music helps them relax and focus on their work, which can be quite stressful. 6) It is a way of assessing and connecting with the child's needs on an emotional as well as physical level. And the list goes on…
After the sedation I went to the infusion center where a middle-aged woman was to receive chemotherapy. She had been referred to music therapy because she experiences so much anxiety when receiving treatment. Chemotherapy can have many side effects such as nausea /vomiting, anxiety and generalized pain. Research shows that music therapy can both reduce the amount of nausea experienced during treatment as well as prolong its onset. It has also been shown to greatly reduce anxiety, stress and as mentioned above pain. I used guided imagery and progressive deep muscle relaxation / breathing techniques as I used keyboard, guitar, and ocean drum as well as toning. According to the nurses she normally expresses discomfort throughout the treatment. After one 45-minute session she did not vocalize any discomfort for the remaining three hours.
After each session I contribute to the medical chart by writing pertinent information from the session. I also inform the staff individually and during staff meetings of a patient's needs and/or progress. I write my own progress notes for my records and will try to follow the patient through the duration of their care.
What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is being able to utilize my creativity as a means of assisting others in the healing process. I wake up and go to work like anyone else. The difference is I actually get paid to use music to help people heal. Don't tell my employer but I would probably do this for free! Every day is different and exciting. Each challenge is dealt with in a unique way. The career is ever changing and evolving. Once the foundations of clinical practice are in place one's growth and success is limited by one factor, their imagination.
What are some of the personal rewards that have come with your job or career?
The personal rewards are limitless for me. I receive countless thanks on a daily basis from both patients and staff. I can be with a scared child during one of the most difficult times in their life. I can help bring people together whether its families, patients and staff, patients and patients or staff and staff. I am always happy to see a doctor's perspective toward their patient change for the better because they are reminded that a whole person sits in front of them, not just a list of symptoms. Each and every time I conduct the therapy I help change, however great or small, someone's life for the better. The most rewarding thing is that I am professionally required to be myself. This is something one cannot find in most careers.
What do you think are the requisites for someone entering this field?
The field of music therapy is broad and can incorporate a wide range of personalities and beliefs. One must first believe, on a fundamental level, in the ability of music to do more than just entertain. In order to contribute to positive changes in others I believe that one must be able to empathize with others. While less stressful careers are available within the umbrella of music therapy, most of them require a good deal of courage. The therapy is perhaps most powerful in the most daunting of populations and/or situations. One must also be personally motivated. The field is growing so fast that there are very few "hoops," to jump through which someone else has placed before you. One needs a passion for innovation, a desire to help others, an understanding and love of music, a willingness to grow and change and above all else courage.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and/or career?
There are many challenging aspects of music therapy. Even though the practice has been around since before the written word. Even though the Bible makes reference to it, the oldest medical doctrine makes reference to it and every culture in the world maintains some degree of musicality it can still be difficult for some to accept. Insurance companies reimburse expressive therapies now. The number of job openings grows exponentially each year. The field has over 50 years of clinical research to stand on yet each therapist has a certain responsibility to contribute to the growth of the field. All of the other aspects of music therapy may appeal to you but if you are unable to speak publicly, if you are unable to develop conviction in your beliefs and if you are afraid of resistance from those who do not fully understand the field it will be very difficult for you to be effective. The good news is that there is a profound influence on program building and dealing with resistance in the work place built right into the curriculum. The music therapy degree from Berklee will truly prepare you for what you will face in the professional world.
The aspects of client care can also be very daunting. Depending on the population that one chooses to work with their clients may be facing mental illness, intense physical pain, severe developmental disabilities, life-threatening illness or even death itself. They also may be in good health and good spirit and may merely need a little stress reduction.
What are the skills that you are called upon to use daily in your work?
Creativity, compassion, knowledge of music, music theory and the psychology of music are all requisites. Also, interpersonal skills, public speaking, knowledge of the therapeutic process, population specific knowledge (disease, disabilities, procedures etc.), SELF MOTIVATION and flexibility are other necessary skills.
How did your education at Berklee prepare you for what you are doing today?
The education at Berklee is both inspiring and practical. The music therapy curriculum exposes you to a wide variety of techniques, populations and leaders in the field. They prepare you for EVERY aspect of your career. They spend a lot of time making sure that their students understand the logistics of the career such as billing and reimbursement as well as developing appropriate research protocols. They put you in touch with internship and job opportunities and their staff is so highly respected that a letter of recommendation from them goes a long way. The music therapy curriculum is one of the few educational experiences in the world where a student is immediately ready to work in the field following completion of the coursework and internship. When I completed my studies and started working I felt totally prepared.
It is hard enough to pack the necessary information into the time allowed for undergraduate study but they are careful not to overburden the student. They allow him/her to grow relatively at their own pace. The work can sometimes be very emotional, and there are accurate and constructive support mechanisms in place to ensure the students well-being as well as their development. It is also important to be around dedicated peers when you are learning about anything. The collection of people at the Berklee College of Music, both on the student and instructor level, is one of the most intense, motivated and talented in the world.
What are the current trends in the field of music therapy that will most likely shape your future and the future of this industry?
Music therapy is at the forefront of one of the greatest revolutions in healthcare ever. Insurance companies are reimbursing for the therapy as they are realizing both it's effectiveness and it's cost effectiveness. Healthcare professionals are seeking out this therapy because, at the very least, they attract more clientele. People no longer have to put up with an impersonal approach to medicine and their doctors know that. Either they provide these services or their clientele goes elsewhere. One unfortunate side effect of this trend is that there are a lot of other therapies, that are not well founded on years of clinical research, that are scrambling for the same piece of the healthcare pie. These therapies pose no immediate threat to the future of music therapy because of many factors. The most important of which is their accountability.
Music therapy also has a direct connection to technology itself and Berklee is fully capitalizing on that aspect. Alternative instrumentation and related technologies are an integral part of the therapy's future. Berklee has probably the most highly developed music technology for music therapy curriculum there is.
The future of music therapy is based on the same principles of any field. As long as the field continues to attract young, bright and motivated people who are willing to participate in an idea that is bigger than just one person, then it will flourish.