Friday, January 27, 2012

7 Thoughts of an Advocacy “In-between-er”

A few weeks ago, I shared an advocacy video for my profession’s social media advocacy month. My goal was twofold: 1. to illustrate how a music therapist might use music as a vehicle to present information, and 2. to state that by persisting as a team, combined with individual work, music therapists can help push forward as our profession grows.
Today, I wanted to elaborate on some points that I’ve found helpful when it comes to advocacy:
I wouldn’t consider myself an advocacy “ace”; however, I wouldn’t say I’m quite an amateur advocate, either. I feel comfortable and fairly confident at my current position in the middle- able to share what I’ve learned this far and appreciative of what I can absorb from others. Whether you’re an ace, amateur, or an in-between-er, I welcome you to explore my thoughts about what I’ve personally found to work.  These can easily apply to non-music therapists.

1. No discrimination. Just like the uniqueness of humanity, advocacy and being an advocate comes in all shapes and sizes.  I feel as though this is a point that's been shared throughout our advocacy project...yay- we're on the same page!  Whatever your comfort level, there’s a way for you be involved. If you’re not a fan of public speaking or you’d rather be the one in front and in charge, you can tailor your involvement to fit your preferences. Consider working within a team setting versus individually. You can gain insights, experience, and have a built-in support system!
2. Be and do. “Advocate” is both a noun and a verb. Be an advocate. Advocate for your passion, whatever it may be. My professional passion is utilizing the power of music to help others achieve important, meaningful skills in their lives. I have begun to think of advocacy as an obligation, rather than simply something I’m “able” to do. We as music therapists possess knowledge that others without our training don’t have. And from therapist to therapist we differ. It almost feels like an injustice not to share our smarts!
3. Stray outside of your profession. I’ve been told by mentors- music therapists and non-music therapists- that it’s easiest to start public speaking when you’re presenting to those who aren’t of the same career. This gives you a great opportunity of spreading your message without anxiety of being scrutinized by fellow therapists/ doctors/ educators/ builders/ bakers, etc. The first presentation I gave was to related service professionals (physical therapists, early intervention therapists, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists). Some were familiar with my line of work, but many had never been introduced to the topic. It was a great way to advocate, educate, and share- with an only slightly elevated heart rate. I was the expert!
4. Be social. Social media has given us lots of (free) ways to connect, while being states, countries, or continents apart. Through Linked-In, I met a speech-language pathologist from Florida. In her 11 years of practicing, she had never met a music therapist in her area. She was intrigued by my job, and asked me to write an article about it for her blog. Advocacy. Done. And it was started by just clicking “accept” on a virtual invitation. Likewise, there are in-person opportunities to connect with a wide variety of professionals in your community: your local chamber of commerce or business networking groups (BNI is one such organization.) On the flip side…
5. Birds of a feather flock together. While it’s important to educate those who aren’t music therapy majors, keeping up with the latest happenings in the world of music therapy, meeting new colleagues, and collaborating will only help us help each other.
6. In the famous words of the Nike brand- “just do it.” Like any new seemingly daunting task, it will get, if even minisculely so, easier as you become more used to and practice the idea. Looking back to beginning my collegiate career, (in my pre-MT major days, at a 35,000+ Big 10 university), I thought “How in the world am I going to meet new people in this environment?” Turns out, I just did it. I began to initiate conversations, introduce myself, and never looked back. To this day, this experience takes credit for my ability to be comfortable in new social settings. Now, as a small-business owner, it’s completely up to me to advocate for and well-represent my company and my profession, and I feel comfortable doing so. I do this when I: engage in public speaking, attend a resource fair, host shadowing opportunities for high school and college students who are interested in music therapy, begin a new music therapy program, write a blog post that someone may happen to “happen upon”…and so continues the many ways! Take a deep breath and jump in…there will always be someone around to assist you, if need be.
7. Carpe articulum. Seize the moment. Music therapists are, generally, used to elaborating on their job descriptions when asked “So- what do you do?” Use this opportunity to advocate and educate. Think about the many scenarios when this may unfold. Create a succinct speech that you can recite or share an anecdote that will share information to those without the knowledge- and who can in turn walk away with an introduction to music therapy.

When I shared the “a-d-v-o-c-a-t-e” video two weeks ago, I was nervous. It was my first musical offering on the Web when I was both heard and seen. But I did it. Maybe someone was introduced to the subject of music therapy that day- who knows?
It’s been great to read and listen to all of the contributions from my fellow therapists during the past few weeks. I know this project has lit a fire for me to consistently keep up with advocacy efforts, and I suspect that our profession will continue to make headway and burn brightly, too.