Grateful: The AMTA Conference in Review

The holiday we just celebrated here in America reminds us that being grateful is a pretty important thing. Work in end of life care reminds us to be grateful on a daily basis. Life’s fleeting nature and unpredictability are impossible to ignore while interacting daily with people who are dying. Taking for granted anything that gives meaning to our lives becomes much less of a habit.

One thing my patients have taught me not to take for granted is time well spent. This year in particular, I’m grateful for having been able to attend the annual conference of the American Music Therapy Association. The conference was held in Louisville, Kentucky just a few weeks ago, and was definitely a time well spent.

We all know that this is not a given for conference-going. Attending a conference requires a significant amount of time, energy, and money. If we hope for a high return on investment, there is a lot riding on a few whirlwind days. The stakes are even higher when we’re keenly aware that we need a break from all things work-related and the conference happens to be work-related. With the odds thus being stacked against this particular conference for this particular participant, the fact I left Louisville still wanting more did not escape my notice.

Having taken some time to reflect on what made this time so worthwhile, I realized several reasons why I came home feeling grateful:

  • Forward movement.

This was perceptible in at least two distinct ways. The first emerged during one of the discussions about Master’s Level Entry (MLE). The depth and breadth of insight during the presentation by the MLE Subcomittee on how this change could occur gives reason to hope that this crucial change truly will occur.

Second, there’s a fresh breeze coming from the youngest generation of professionals who have joined professional committees. For example, a previously discouraged colleague who is now a  member of the Advocacy Committee returned from their meetings with contagious excitement. Alongside the innovators who have been trailblazing for many years, the first and second termers’ perspectives and energy are shaping what the profession will become in our quickly approaching tomorrow. The winds of change are blowing, and it seems that the music therapy world is opening up its (our) sails.

  • Quality research.

We have some researchers in our field who are as impressive as Olympic athletes. Joke Bradt is an obvious example. What caught my attention were those presentations revealing the application of solid research methods to answer questions of real importance. The result of these scholars’ efforts is knowledge that is going to shape our practice. For example, Dr. Bradt and Noah Potvin (if I may praise the work of one of our own!) spoke about a study on music therapy’s impact on symptom managements in cancer care. The study utilized an approach both thorough and flexible enough to allow a crucial examination of patient experience to unfold. Another example was the session during which Felicity Baker shared about her research on models of songwriting, which will inform how and why we choose our interventions.

  • The people.

There is no excuse for not being thankful to have a few days where it is possible to talk with, listen to, learn from, present or teach with, do music with, eat with, relax with, go to the gym with, and otherwise gallivant almost exclusively with people to whom you don’t have to explain yourself.

  • The giants.

This is an extraordinary subgroup of all those fine folks in attendance. This group consists of people who have been in the field for years now, maybe even decades, working with clients, teaching, researching, writing, and serving on boards and committees. To see them so far along on their professional journeys, still growing and still deeply passionate, could help to revive even the weariest, most burnt out young professionals. To see them passing on the torch should give us all a reason to hope. I am deeply grateful to have seen Susan Gardstrom, Jim Borling, and Kathy Murphy (amongst others) presenting alongside students and younger professionals, and also soaking up the material being shared by newbies.

  • Contrasts.

Although diversity in demographics is still lacking, other differences such as in theoretical orientation, model, and even the populations we serve are vast. It is refreshing to meet colleagues with vastly different ideas and to consider if and how we can fit under the same umbrella. A session by Corene Thaut on her work using NMT to help people who have Parkinson’s Disease  helped me to gain a clearer understanding of my own, contrasting view on music’s role in music therapy. Meghan Hinman’s session on application of psychoanalytic theory to work with older adults sparked discussion among attenders whose backgrounds were obviously diverse, but all of whom were impacted by the ideas she shared. (Here again, I admit I could be biased.)

  • Learning.

To walk away from a conference having learned just one thing that will impact your work is to have succeeded in using the time well. At this event, however, I took something from nearly every presentation I attended. I have to say I was disappointed by John Creswell’s keynote address, which was less informative and less insightful about the use of mixed methods in music therapy research than I had hoped it would be. However, that was one of only a few exceptions.

Of course, it is never possible to take in all a conference has to offer. There was much that I was not able to partake of, and I’m curious to hear from people who participated in parts I missed. Whether you attended the same sessions or different sessions, do you agree or disagree with the sentiments above? Along with the turkey (or veggie ducken), stuffing, and pumpkin pie you had for dinner on Thanksgiving, is there some other part of the conference for which you’re also grateful?

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