Saturday, June 22, 2013

Share Wisdom

            Music therapy is a complex profession. Those who practice and those who receive music therapy intricately know the benefits of music as therapy. However, many people that I personally encounter on a daily basis regard music therapy as illegitimate, either as a result of a lack of knowledge about the profession or a different perception of valuable therapeutic treatments. I expected to find this outlook from those unfamiliar with what we label as music therapy during my time in Thailand. Like so many other encounters I have had during this trip, my expectations did not meet reality.
            During a weekend trip to Chiang Mai we visited the Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development.
Rajanagarindra Institute of Child Development
This center provides care for children from all parts of Thailand with developmental disabilities and behavioral problems. Some treatments at RICD include physical, occupational, and music therapy. However, the “music therapist” at this institute is not trained in music therapy. She went to school for music education and implements music activities at RICD with the children. In America, we stress advocacy of music therapy and require board certification. We often look down upon those who practice music therapy without the proper qualifications. In Thailand, my views about music therapy had to change to meet the culture’s views about music therapy.
                        Piano keys above the entrance to the new hospital.           
            While RICD may not implement what those trained in the United States call music therapy, their openness to the use of music as therapy left me astonished. The institute is in the process of building a new hospital in the shape of a grand piano with a giant violin-playing panda featured in the lobby.

Musical panda located in the lobby of the new hospital.
The new center contains three group and ten individual music therapy rooms. The creation of such a space for music therapy shows dedication and immense support for the career, even though their current definition of music therapy does not exactly meet my own definition.
            I am an active supporter of research-based music therapy. I believe that music can be used in many different ways to reach non-musical therapeutic goals that have been tested in various circumstances. In the American culture this outlook of music therapy is extremely important. Music therapists are constantly advocating for their career as a legitimate healthcare profession. However, roadblocks are created as a result of the society we are a part of. Some people view music therapy as an illegitimate medical practice and collecting research that shows its benefits is important to furthering the progress of music therapy. In Thailand, the culture as a whole is more open to alternative medical practices. Acupuncture and types of ambient music listening are often implemented in medical institutions or hospitals. As a result, the Thai people in the medical field have a desire to execute music therapy but many do not have access to the resources needed to create a comprehensive music therapy program. The differences in the appreciation of music as therapy in correlation to access to the product between the United States and Thailand strikes me as unfortunate.
New group music therapy room.
            Although America and Thailand view music therapy in different ways, I believe that both countries can learn from the philosophies of the other. Where the United States is abundant in standards for music therapy practice, Thailand is abundant in openness to the practice of music therapy. Instead of focusing on the differences I hope that music therapists and non-music therapists alike can broaden their worldview and seek improvements in working with others who may not have the same outlook, in any situation. Viewing a comfortable situation in another light provides insight to untapped wisdom, in music therapy or any other profession. 
Learning how to play a Thai traditional instrument.

What do you think music therapists in America can learn from music therapists in Thailand and vice versa? What types of cultural differences have you experienced within your own profession? Please answer in the comment section below.

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