Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How CODA MTS Came to Be

This post was inspired by music therapist & blogger, Rachel Rambach's post I Graduated...Now What?  In her post, she tells how she handled transitioning from her internship into a professional position by utilizing networking.  She also wrote, "Music therapists sometimes have to create their own jobs."  This was the case for me, so I thought it would be worthwhile to share the story of how CODA Music Therapy Services, LLC came to be.

I completed my music therapy internship at the UIC Medical Center at the end of September 2006.  I had certifications in both music therapy and music education, but - ideally - I wanted to return to my loved ones in Michigan and there were no suitable positions to be had.  So, I headed home, worked as a substitute teacher, and began sending out letters and e-mails to area Intermediate School Districts (ISDs) introducing myself, explaining music therapy, and proposing the implementation of music therapy services and/or adapted music education within their district.

Some districts replied that they already had music, some replied that they were not interested at this time, but, in December 2006, I got a reply from Ingham ISD wanting more information.  I arranged a meeting with the principal at Heartwood School, Marcia O'Brien.  She explained that they had been approached about music therapy in the past, but the special education directors had always turned it aside.  However, when my e-mail showed up, she was given the 'go ahead' to get more information.

In January 2007, I heard back from Marcia and found that her boss approved adding music therapy to the budget for the next school year (2007-08).  A month later - Valentine's Day, to be exact - I got a phone call from Marcia saying that they had received a parent request to have music therapy added to her child's IEP (IEP = Individualized Education Plan) and they would like to have me provide these services.

In March 2007, I started off providing 1/2 hour of music therapy two times per week for one student as a "temporary employee".  By the summer, I was offered a contracted position for the 2007-08 school year to service all thirteen (now fifteen!) classrooms with a combined music therapy and adapted music education program.  Success!

I worked closely with both Marcia and a human resources representative to develop my first contract.  The school was very concerned that my position meet the IRS criteria for a contracted position.  We determined that it would be most appropriate for me to establish my own company and for the school to contract with the company.

In July 2007, CODA Music Therapy Services, LLC became official.  For personal liability protection and my intentions to expand, I decided an LLC would suit my situation better than a sole proprietorship.  In the three and a half years since, our contract with Ingham ISD has grown, we have expanded to include contracts with other schools, contracts with hospitals, private pay clients, and - just this January - an inclusive early childhood music & movement program.  This is an exciting time for CODA MTS, as we look forward to the coming year and continue to expand our services throughout Michigan. 

CODA Music Therapy Services, LLC: Providing Creative Opportunities for Developing Abilities since 2007.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Battling the Winter 'Blahs'? Take a Sensory Vacation!

This is the time of year when I really start to feel the winter "blahs".  Days without sunshine, weeks without temperatures above freezing, and copious amounts of the "nasty white stuff" have me just wanting to hibernate!  Unfortunately, that is not conducive to paying my bills.  So, in order to cope with what many would probably label as mild Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to take "sensory vacations".

What is a sensory vacation?  I have learned to, essentially, trick my senses by barraging them with stimuli I associate with summer and warm, tropical climates.  Yes, I know I am still surrounded by the Michigan snow, but it does help to lessen my down times.  Here are a few of my favorites.  [Please note: If you are experiencing major depression, including but not limited to thoughts of suicide and/or inability to function in daily tasks, please consult with a psychologist, counselor or other health professional immediately.] 

Auditory (Hearing)
As a music therapist, this is an important sense for me.  During the cold, winter months, I like to pull out calypso, reggae and Hawaiian music.  For world music selections, I use a lot of CDs from the "Putumayo Presents" series; Putumayo Presents: The Caribbean has lots of "warm sounding" songs.  As far as Hawaiian music, I love anything and everything by the late Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo'ole.  Everytime I hear IZ's voice, I am immediately transported back to a white sandy beach of Hawaii.

Summer 2010 in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
Particularly in cloudy Michigan, looking out the window can quickly get you down.  I opt to surround myself with pictures from warmer days and places.  I use images from summer and my tropical vacations as my computer desktop, screensaver and Facebook profile picture.  I also have a "Tropical Paradise" wall calendar, which never fails to elicit some warming daydreams.

Olfactory (Smell)
I use candles and lotions to transport my nose.  My favorite sensory vacation candle is Yankee Candle's 'Sun & Sand', which smells like sunscreen and all things summer.  If Sun & Sand does not appeal to you, perhaps Pineapple Cilantro or Ocean Blossom will be more to your taste.  For lotions, I go for tropical scents, as well; my current favorite is Bath & Body Works 'Mango Mandarin'.  I am also looking forward to trying products from Bath & Body Works' new "Island Escape" line, which includes Hawaii Coconut, Fiji Passionfruit, and Bali Mango.

Gustatory (Taste)
I have found that when I use my Mango Mandarin lotion, I crave fruit.  Fresh fruit can be pretty expensive this time of year, but frozen fruit is usually more budget-friendly and works great for making smoothies.  I also rely on fruit juices, particularly anything containing pineapple juice, to give my taste buds a tropical treat.

Somatosensory (Touch, Proprioception)
One of the things I miss the most during the winter is the feel of warm sunshine on my body.  Light therapy, a common treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder, is one option for satisfying this deficiency.  Light therapy lamps emit bright light, which mimics natural outdoor light and is thought to effect serotonin production.  Additional information about light therapy can be found here.  Some people opt to use tanning beds, rather than light therapy lamps, but please be aware that tanning beds can expose the body to high levels of UV rays, which can contribute to skin cancer.

A few other suggestions for beating the winter "blahs"...
- Get plenty of exercise.  Despite my busy schedule, I try to get to the gym 4-5 times per week.
- Get enough sleep.  It's important to know how much sleep your body needs to feel well-rested.
- Get fresh air.  Sometimes I will leave my lunch in my car, simply so I have to go outside during the day.  Even a few minutes of fresh, albeit cold, air can go a long way.
- Eat healthy.  Eating heavy, fatty meals will only contribute to the desire to hibernate.
- Supplement your diet with vitamins.  Vitamin D is especially important during dark winter months and can make a big difference with energy levels.

What would you add to these suggestions? How do you keep your spirits up during winter?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Music Therapy Advocacy in Everyday Life

This month, January 2011, there is an initiative for blogs and podcasts to highlight advocacy in music therapy.  As I contemplated what to focus upon for this next blog, colleague Kimberly Sena Moore suggested I contribute to the advocacy project.  To learn more about this initiative and to be connected to other advocacy posts, please visit her blog: Music Therapy Maven.

When I hear the word "advocacy", I picture lobbying at the Capitol, calling legislators, and formal petitions.  Although I did happen to attend church with a Senator this past weekend, all of that seems very intimidating and quite removed from my daily life.  However, by definition, to advocate is merely "to support or recommend publicly; to plead for or speak in favor of [a cause]".  That doesn't seem so difficult.

As some of you know, in my "free time" my significant other and I are involved in real estate investment and property flipping.  (Music therapist by day, DIY diva by night!)  We are currently in the middle of remodeling a house that was foreclosed and in desperate need of some love.  Over holiday break we tackled sanding the hardwood floors.  To do this we had to rent an orbital floor sander from Home Depot and, as is pretty typical, we were both wearing Michigan State apparel when we went to pick up the sander.  The Home Depot Associate working the rental desk asked us about our affiliation with the university and I simply responded that John has a psychology degree and I have degrees in music education and music therapy and left it at that.  We loaded up the sander and headed off to the house.  About an hour into the project, we realized we were going to need to trade out some of the sanding disks for a different grade paper.  So I headed back to Home Depot for supplies while John kept working.

The same Home Depot Associate (HDA) was working and, as he helped me find the necessary supplies, the following conversation ensued.

HDA: Do you still do anything with your music degrees?
Me: Yes, I actually have a music therapy private practice.  Mostly, I contract within schools and work with children in special education, lots of kids with autism and other special needs...
HDA: So, most music therapists work with children?
Me: No, not necessarily. I just prefer to work with children.  There are lots of music therapists who work with the elderly and those with dementia...music and memory are very closely related in the brain.  There are also music therapists working with Parkinson's patients, particularly with gait training...walking...
HDA: Is it that the rhythm helps them walk?
Me: Exactly.  And music at different tempos can help with moving at different speeds. Also, there are music therapists that work in hospitals, hospice, mental health... it's a very diverse field.
HDA: Didn't MSU stop the music therapy program?
Me: Yeah... I'm still pretty aggravated by that.

We then proceeded to discuss the recent moratorium of the music therapy program at MSU.  It turns out he exercises at the intramural building that is across from the music buildings and had encountered music professors during his work-outs.  I was so surprised and excited about this conversation that, as soon as I got in the car, I pulled out my phone and posted on Facebook: "Got to talk about music therapy with the tool rental guy at The Home Depot. He even knew about MSU closing the MT program. Pretty sweet interaction, if you ask me!"

This is advocacy!  Everytime we talk about our profession - with anyone - we are advocating.  For all I know, the Home Depot Associate could be the Governor's nephew!  Who might the cashier at the grocery store know?  Or the teller at the bank?

But what if I did not have to return to the store? This conversation would not have happened, simply because I did not take the initiative to advocate for my profession.  When he asked about our majors I could have easily asked if he was familiar with music therapy.  Why didn't I?  Probably because, in the ten years I have been involved with the field, I have had to correct so many misconceptions of music therapy.  It can be both exhausting and frustrating.  However, every time we explain the many facets of our profession, that is one less misconception that will have to be corrected later.  And, hopefully, that person can proceed to educate others.

Advocacy does not have to be extravagant, inconvenient or challenging.  It can be as simple as volunteering information about music therapy to those we encounter in our everyday life.  With the increase and accessibility of social networking, the world is shrinking.  So, though you may be telling your story to a 'mere' sales associate, you never know where that interaction may lead. 

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Early Childhood Music & Movement at CODA MTS

Just a little over a week until our new Sing Play Grow early childhood music and movement classes begin.  Here are answers to some Frequently Asked Questions.

What is the program philosophy?
     Our classes are based on the research of both Music Learning Theory and music therapy developmental principles.  Early childhood is a critical time for brain development and learning.  In regards to music learning, early exposure to a rich variety of musical experiences greatly influences the extent to which an individual will be able to understand, appreciate, and achieve in music as an adult.  Children learn music very similarly to how they learn language.  They are exposed to language by first listening to and then experimenting with language sounds through babble.  Children have many years of informal exposure to language before learning to read and write.  This is the same for music learning: children need informal exposure to a variety of music and opportunities for experimentation with musical sounds before they can effectively participate in formal music instruction, reading musical notation and creation of their own music.
     In addition to music learning, the CODA MTS Sing Play Grow program incorporates music therapy ideology, as well.  Beyond increasing musicality, our classes are also designed to: develop body awareness, fine, and gross motor skills through movement activities and instrument play; reinforce beginning speech and language processes; and provide opportunities for creativity, imaginative play, and active socialization among peers, caregivers and teachers.  In addition, we have additional training and experience in working with children with special needs and greatly value an inclusive classroom environment. 

What happens in a typical class?
     Teachers sing and chant using a variety of different tonalities, modalities and meters.  Age-appropriate movement activities are paired with the music and props/simple rhythm instruments - such as bean bags, egg shakers, and scarves - are incorporated as a means for imaginative play and motor development.  Parents attend classes with their child to provide a familiar adult model and allow for constant individual interaction.

Why don't you use traditional children's songs?
     Most "traditional" children's songs are in either major or minor and very few incorporate unusual meters.  We aim to provide musical exposure that augments what children may be experiencing within other environments.  Additionally, we use many songs & chants without words, since - when songs & chants are presented with text - children tend to focus on the words, rather than the musical content. 

I am worried that my child does not seem to be participating in class. What should I do?
     Don't worry, your child will participate when he or she is ready.  Some children learn best by watching and silently absorbing what happens in class.  Observing rather than participating is perfectly normal and does not indicate a child's ability or interest level.  Children are always learning through exposure.  It is important to allow a child to experience music in his/her way, rather than to force participation; forcing a child to participate may cause a child to resent music rather than to enjoy it.

What other questions do you have about the CODA MTS Sing Play Grow program?