In my experience, there are three main components of successful advocacy: educate by demonstrating, know your audience, and make personal connections. I’ve found that presentations can be a great tool for advocating, but the best way to really help people understand your work is through 1:1 interactions. In the next three posts, I’ll focus on how I advocate to different types of people. This post describes my advocacy approach to staff members and colleagues.
Educate by demonstrating
I’ve found that simply demonstrating what music therapy can do can be much more effective than giving lengthy explanations. For example, before any music therapy session in the hospital, I approach the patient’s nurse (let’s call her Ashley) to get her permission to enter the room. I could walk up to Ashley and say, “Hi! I’m a board-certified music therapist. I was referred to see your patient because of pain. Music therapy can help with pain in a variety of ways, such as providing alternative engagement to decrease perception of pain and promoting relaxation. Is now a good time for music therapy?”
There’s nothing really wrong about this approach, and I used to use it all the time. However, over the years I’ve found that something like this works better: walk up to Ashley and notice that she’s busy charting. Glance in the patient’s room and notice the patient is moaning in pain. Ashley looks tense and stressed. “Hi Ashley. I’m Lauren, the music therapist. Your patient’s doctor thought music therapy might be able to help with his pain. Can I go in and try to help?”
Once I get in the door, the music therapy sessions usually speak for themselves. Nurses often comment, “Wow, it looked like he really enjoyed that!” Then I take the opportunity to explain in more depth what happened in the session: “Yes! He did enjoy it. I was watching his vital signs during the session and noticed that his heart rate decreased by 10 beats per minute, and his breathing rate became more even. In between songs he told me that he was missing his family, so we sang a song together that reminded him of his parents. He even smiled afterwards!” This information lets Ashley know that I’m more than a hospital musician – I’m a music therapist trained to help patients with their physical and emotional health, too.
Know your audience
Knowing your audience and providing information appropriate for that specific person and situation can make all the difference when it comes to advocacy. In the example above, Ashley seemed stressed and like she would appreciate help, so I very briefly explained who I was and that I wanted to help her by helping her patient. That’s really all she needed to know in that moment.
Sometimes, I catch nurses in a moment when they have a few minutes to chat. If they seem relaxed and ready to engage in conversation, that’s when I’ll go into some more detail about my profession. Giving examples related to the types of patients they usually work with is one way to ensure the information is relevant and interesting.
Make personal connections
Keeping conversations one-sided is a sure way to remain an outsider. Instead, make personal connections! Making friends with your colleagues not only benefits you; it benefits the patients because your friends are more willing to support and encourage you. Take 2 minutes to ask how Ashley’s kids are doing and see some recent pictures of them. Learn that the nurse down the hall is getting married and go over to congratulate her. Occasionally help someone out with a non-music therapy need (grab an item needed from a supply room, get a drink for a patient instead of asking the nurse to do it, etc.).
Making friends with the staff members you work with will change everything. I often hear music therapists at conference discussing how to get more referrals. When you are friends with the staff members you work with and they have seen you demonstrate and appropriately explain your work, you will not have this problem. Your new problem will be trying to prioritize, because all of the nurses will want you to work with their patients.
Alright, music therapists, what do you think? Is this similar or different than your approach? Let me know in the comments.