They say safety for practitioners and patients is key

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Canadian music therapists are joining with fellow counsellors in order to lobby each provincial government for regulation. Currently, music therapists do not need to be accredited in any province to treat patients.

“Anyone can call themselves a music therapist without having the education and training,” says Christina Wensveen, an accredited music therapist and owner of Blue Sky Music Therapy.

The main purpose for government regulation is to protect the public from harm. There are ethical standards that all regulated practitioners have to live up to, but music therapists cannot be held accountable or become trusted in the same way without abiding by these regulations.

Wensveen earned her bachelor of music therapy degree in 2009 from the University of Windsor. She then completed a six-month internship at Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care in London, Ont.

“A lot of people still don’t know what music therapy is,” Wensveen says, as she removes a worn out guitar from its black case. Music therapists take a music experience and tailor it to work towards a particular goal.”

Wensveen was accredited in 2009 through the Canadian Association for Music Therapy. She says that these steps are necessary in order to gain recognition within the community but are not currently regulated by the government.

Music therapy has been used to improve speech and motor functioning of people who suffer from:

• Acquired brain injury
• Autism
• Developmental disabilities
• Physical disabilities
• Speech and language impairments
• Physical, mental or emotional abuse

“(Music therapy is) a major component of what we do here,” says Matt Litke, the recreation director at McKenzie Towne Retirement Residence, who brings in accredited music therapists to work with seniors.Kingsmith MT3Although music therapy does not require accreditation in Canada, it has been used to improve speech and motor functions.

Photo by Scott Kingsmith

“Music therapy creates cognitive connections,” Litke says. “It’s emotionally pleasant and residents with dementia can focus on that emotion as part of the healing.”

Wensveen says: “People think we are just going in to entertain. But really we are doing so much more than that. We are working on goals that will increase a person’s quality of life.”

Music therapy has gained increased exposure in recent years with the recovery of Gabrielle Giffords, the United States congresswoman who, in 2011, was shot in the head and lived. Giffords learned how to speak again with the help of music therapist, Maegan Morrow.

“There is a training that Maegan Morrow took that is called neurologic music therapy” says Susan Summers , who has lead the government regulation committee for the Canadian Association for Music Therapy since 2009.

“Music therapists often collaborate with other team members, as Maegan did as well, she worked with a speech therapist.”

Music therapists in Canada are now joining with colleagues, who work within other fields of counselling, in order to gain regulation.

“Through the (Nova Scotia) College of Counselling Therapists music therapists are lobbying the government for recognition,” Wensveen says. “The title of music therapist will be protected.”

“I can give you a Band-Aid or an Aspirin when you have an injury or a headache, but that doesn’t make me a nurse,” Summers says. “With music therapists, it’s not as obvious that we could do harm, so that’s the thing we need to sell.”

Produced by Scott Kingsmith

Ontario is currently the closest province to gaining regulation. The government of Ontario formed the College of Psychotherapists of Ontario and it could include music therapists if it’s decided that they have the qualifications to fit the definition provided.

“It remains to be seen,” Summers says. “But music therapists are hopeful in the fact that our training, our credentialing and our experience will qualify under their definition.”

Wensveen says she also remains hopeful that the Alberta government will eventually recognize the career she has worked for. Until that time, she will keep strumming her worn-out guitar and singing to the tune of Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies.

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