I POSTED A NEW BLOG AS A FOLLOWUP TO THIS ONE. PLEASE CONSIDER READING THE UPDATE (DEFINING THE ETHICAL CHRISTIAN MUSIC THERAPIST) AS IT WILL HOPEFULLY CLEAR UP ANY QUESTIONS YOU MAY HAVE!
Which one is it? Should we be music therapists who practice Christianity on the side or music therapists who use our Christianity in our practice? It is a question that has come up time and time again in my 11 years as a music therapist.
Yes, you may safely assume that I am a Christian. Most people know that I am a Christian because it is not something I hide because it’s politically correct to do so. It is who I am, and I am not ashamed. There is a fine line between letting people know who you are and shoving your lifestyle in their face to encourage their conversion. I will always use my Christian “traits” in my practice. I make an effort to be kind hearted, generous, loving, patient, and forgiving. That is the least we should do. But is it ethically ok to do more than this? Yes and no.
As a music therapist, especially as a student, we were told to be very careful when dealing with our faith and the faith of our clients/patients. I remember being afraid to ever bring it up. I remember being terrified when a client brought it up! “OH NO! Heaven forbid! I don’t want to talk about Jesus!!!!” The reality is, I DID want to talk about Jesus.
When I taught music at an elementary school for a very short time, we were allowed to bring up our faith if the student asked about it, but otherwise, be quiet. I didn’t want to have a Bible study at the school or anything, but I didn’t want to be afraid to say that I believed in God or Jesus. Oh how many times those kids brought God into the conversation!!!! I struggled with this for years because I was not just a music therapist who was a Christian on the side. I am a Christian music therapist. I cannot hide my faith anymore than I can hide the fact that I am a woman. So where do we find a balance without compromising our ethics?
This may be controversial to some, but we need to stop being afraid of who we are. Whether you are a Christian or believe in something else, that is who you are. That being said, I wouldn’t advise going into a session with a new client and saying, “Hi there. I am Valerie, your Christian music therapist. Let’s talk about Jesus.” But I do encourage you be yourself. I’m not saying to sneakily insert “God” and “Jesus” into every session just because. It’s more than that. We need to stop being afraid. Don’t be afraid to say, “God or Jesus” if the topic comes up. For example, a question that comes up frequently for me is, “how did you decide to become a music therapist?” Well, that creates a problem right there if we are supposed to refrain from talking about our faith. I became a music therapist because of a “God thing.” So in a situation like that, I tell my clients that it was a God thing. I try to keep it simple and not give too many details. If they want to ask for more, then I welcome that. And if not, I never pressure them any further. You certainly need to respect their religion or lack thereof.
A good way to gauge your clients’ faith and beliefs is to look around. Many times you can find clues if you are visually observant. Look at their artwork. Are there pictures of Jesus, Mary or Buddah? Listen to how they speak. Ask what type of music they listen to. You can also include this topic in your assessment of music preferences. I have a line that asks if they like religious/Christian music or would prefer to opt out. I have never had a client opt out! You can learn more about your clients by using your observation skills!
Nearly all of my clients over the past decade have been Christians. Isn’t that incredible? I didn’t find this out because I asked them point blank. I didn’t find out because I hid my beliefs. I found out because I was real with them. And they could tell something about me was different. Most of them asked me if I was a Christian. It is always a good feeling when someone notices. That means I am doing my job to be Christ in the flesh. I realize that some who read this are not Christians. You may be Buddist or Muslim or something else. I say the same to you. Be yourself. You may not be liked or accepted, but if it is important to you, then you should let it out no matter what the outcome is! (while staying within your ethical boundaries, of course!)