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Suggestions for Music Therapists in Navigating Changes in Clinical Practice in Response to COVID-19

July 7, 2020 10:57 AM


Suggestions for Music Therapists in Navigating Changes in Clinical Practice in Response to COVID-19

AMTA COVID-19 Task Force
Heather Wagner, PhD, MT-BC
Lauren DiMaio, PhD, MT-BC


AMTA recognizes that COVID-19 has profoundly impacted the music therapy community. One possible place of impact may include the work settings and the manner in which music therapists work. For example, music therapists may have to adjust how services are provided. There may be changes in how other health professionals view the profession and repercussions regarding the classification of music therapists as essential or non-essential. Coping with the impact of COVID-19 may lead to existential issues about music therapy and the future of practice.

As a music therapist, you may find yourself asking difficult questions. What is music therapy in this context? Will I be able to continue in this profession? Will I be able to practice in the way that I believe is best for my clients? Am I doing unintentional harm? How can I be an expert when I have never faced these changes? How can I cope with peers who view me as non-essential? Asking these kinds of questions is a form of coping with loss of professional identity. This document is meant to provide resources and support music therapists who find themselves coping with loss of and changes in professional identity.

Inherent in this experience are ambiguous losses, as there may not be a single event or change that can be identified as the source of your feelings. That lack of clarity may pose even further challenge in moving forward (Weir, 2020). As the pandemic has unfolded, so has the nature of this experience. The unpredictability of the future and the ever-changing understanding of COVID-19 exacerbates these struggles.

While there is no one way to deal with the loss of professional identity, it is hoped that these suggestions will help you find healing and the capacity to continue to provide high quality music therapy services while taking good care of yourself.

  1. Be realistic about the timeline of the pandemic. When viewed through the lens of disaster response, the COVID-19 process is still young. There is still too much unknown, and you may be forced to redefine how you practice. These changes may persist for months. In response to this trauma, you may be in the disillusionment phase (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020), during which you may be realizing the limits of the current responses. You may be feeling discouragement, stress, and exhaustion. You may be feeling tired of the restrictions, and tired of trying to keep up with the changing recommendations. Recognize that changes are still to come, particularly as more is learned about the illness and its effects.
  2. Acknowledge your grief. There is no easy answer, but the first thing to keep in mind is your identity will never be what it was before the loss. Like so many issues within grief, trying to go back to how life was before the loss just is not possible. Part of regaining a sense of self after the loss is accepting that identity is going to be different than it was before the pandemic (Wagner & DiMaio, 2020).
  3. Regain your sense of autonomy. Your sense of professional autonomy may be threatened by limitations placed on your practice by sources who do not fully understand the practice of music therapy. This is likely frustrating and upsetting. How can you regain your sense of autonomy that has been shaken? Find places and moments where you have the opportunity to make decisions about your work, and work to find solutions to emerging challenges that suit your needs and the needs of your clients.
  4. Explore new methods of music therapy. Perhaps now is a time to explore other methods of music therapy practice. Each music therapist has a preferred means of facilitating music therapy, yet there may be other ways to engage with clients. For example, if you have always provided improvised live music with clients, that may not be possible now. Taking time to research and explore literature on other methods of music therapy may be helpful now. 
  5. Seek professional help and support. Now might be a good time to seek music therapy or another form of therapy. Find both formal and informal support systems that are helpful to you.
  6. Reassess your relationship with music. You were a musician before becoming a music therapist. Your relationship with music has changed, but now may be a time to personally explore that relationship and allow it to help you adapt and fulfill some of your needs.
  7. Consider the potential for growth. As a music therapy community, can we see this as an opportunity? Can we redefine what it is possible, and reimagine ways to provide services to meet evolving needs? Can we develop ways of practice that will not only get us through this time, but that may persist in a positive way after the pandemic? Purpose-driven reflection may help us, both individually and collectively, find meaning and resolution (Penn, 2020).
  8. Seek resources. Understanding of COVID-19 and its effects is evolving. Research on how these effects impact music therapy practice is occuring. Stay in touch with the AMTA website, the AMTA COVID-19 page and other sources to stay up to date on current knowledge. Also consider self-study programs such as and AMTA e-courses to help you gain more knowledge related to your practice. Research how this virus is affecting your community and stay informed.

AMTA is committed to offering support and guidance through the emerging challenges of COVID-19. As more information becomes available on clinical practice, it will be disseminated through the AMTA website, social media, and email. Please take good care of yourself, and continue to provide the best music therapy services possible during this time.


References and Resources:

  1. Penn, A. (2020, April 9). The search for acceptance and meaning in COVID-19.
  2. Simmelink, M.N. (2009, September 1). Understanding grief in the context of job loss and lifestyle adjustment.
  3. Smolowe, J. (2019, November 6). Grieving the loss of a work identity.
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020, April 17). Phases of disaster.
  5. Wagner, H. & DiMaio, L. (2020, June 10). Suggestions for music therapists managing grief in the time of COVID-19.
  6. Weir, K. (2020, April 1). Grief and COVID-19: Mourning our bygone lives.