Describe your career as a music therapist—education, populations served, etc.
I have an undergraduate degree in Music Education from West Chester University in PA. I taught elementary school general music classes in Pennsville, NJ for two years before returning to graduate school for music therapy. I completed my studies at Radford University under Jim Borling and Dr. Joe Scartelli. My internship was at Touch of Music, a private practice in Pottstown, PA. At the time, Phyllis Boone was the internship director.
Toward the end of the internship I started working part time in an acute psychiatric unit at Warminster Hospital, and I continued there after my internship was complete. Soon afterward, the hospital was put up for sale, and I began looking for another job. That search led me to my current position with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, PA, where I have been working since December of 2006.
I work at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, the nation’s largest, stand-alone acute psychiatric facility. I am part of a Creative and Expressive Arts Therapies department, which currently includes art, dance/movement, music, recreation, and yoga therapies. Our facility has approximately 300 beds, serving clients from age 3 – 100+. We have units separated by age and general diagnosis, allowing for more homogeneous grouping. The goal of the facility is to help stabilize our clients during their time of crisis, helping them to prepare for whatever long-term treatment is appropriate.
We primarily run group sessions, and I currently lead twenty groups per week. I am also the internship director for a National Roster internship site, and we are preparing to welcome our 35th intern in January!
I am a Fellow of the Association for Music and Imagery, having completed my training through the Atlantis Institute in 2011. I am a drum circle facilitator, and I am co-owner of a small private practice, Music for Life of Pittsburgh, LLC.
What brought you to the field of music therapy or why did you decide to pursue music therapy as a profession?
I started my career in music ed, and knew I wanted to continue my education, but at first I did not know what area to focus on. A friend contacted me out of the blue to share a book they had come across that I might like to read – Healing Imagery and Music by Carol Bush. I read the book and followed the suggestions at the end for a self-guided session. To use the expression, the session blew my mind, and I knew that I had found what I was going to go to graduate school to study. That quickly led me to music therapy, and Radford, and I knew I had found my home.
On a side note, years later I was looking through some old VHS tapes of high school choir concerts, trying to find a solo I sang to show my wife. I was fast forwarding through, and hit play when it looked like I might be next to sing. In the darkness from the back of the audience, I heard my mom sitting next to the camera, talking to someone about music therapy. Surprised, I asked her about it – she said I had been talking about it at the time, though I have no memory of it. In short, I guess music therapy is what I wanted to do from the start!
What suggestions do you have for novice music therapists?
Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to people or knock on doors.
Know yourself, your emotions, your beliefs, your patterns. The more you have done your personal work, the more present you can be with your clients and their struggles and growth.
Be nice to yourself, professionally and personally.
What are some of your favorite resources (Websites, books, blogs, journals, etc.)?
I value the insights shared in the listserv, and in the various music therapy groups on platforms such as Facebook. I also enjoy reading the journals when they come out, keeping informed of the latest research in our field.
Tell us about one of your most favorite moments of being a music therapist.
It’s the little things that can be the most profound. One of my favorite moments was in a group with individuals dealing with substance abuse and a co-occurring mental health diagnosis. There was a woman in her early 20s who sat quietly through the group with little participation. She did not display much emotion aside from a single tear that was shed during one of the songs we were using that day. I touched base after the song to see if she wanted to share anything about her reaction, and she declined.
At the end of group this woman got up and quickly ran to the unit payphone to make a call. As I walked by with my cart to leave the unit, I overheard her excitedly share, “Guess what – I cried!” We impact those whom we serve on so many levels, often beyond what we see during the session itself.
Describe a challenge you have had in your career and what you did to overcome it.
One of the biggest challenges has been learning to work in the acute inpatient psychiatric setting. At this point, there are not a lot of resources that cater specifically to this population. I’ve been able to build my skills through talking with colleagues, adapting methods and articles to the setting, and through having students and interns that keep me analyzing and improving my practice.
What goals do you have for the next few years?
Some of my goals include continuing to build and develop our internship program, present about working in acute psych at conferences, and writing.
Do you have hobbies outside of music?
I love to cross-stitch, play board games, act, and spend time outside.
Feel free to state anything else you would like us to know about you.
I have a small Etsy shop where I sell some music therapy related cross-stitch items. It is at www.etsy.com/shop/musicforlifepgh.
Thank you, Bob, for sharing with the MAR!