Have you ever had a conversation with a therapist or other service provider and sat glassy eyed on the phone or in their presence as they rattled off a standard definition of their profession? Did you find yourself thinking that while the definition they gave was correct, it just didn’t seem to apply to you?

Plenty of music therapists, including myself, have talked about the elevator definition of music therapy. The elevator definition is that particular therapist’s brief and succinct way of explaining what music therapy is to the inquirer. While the elevator definition is a good thing to have ready on the fly, I find that being able to quickly engage the person in a conversation relating to their needs to be more beneficial in the long run.

Since music therapy is different for the needs of each individual it serves, finding out basic information about the person who could be served is vital!

For Example: I had the pleasure of having lunch with a friend I’d met through Twitter the other day. She’s been interested in music therapy for a family member due to a feeling that it could help, but unsure exactly how. The definition of music therapy that I gave her after listening to her description of her loved one, along with the examples of possible ways it could help, was different from the definition that I would give an early interventionist or the director of a hospital rehabilitation program. With her input, I was able to explain music therapy in a way that clearly illustrated how it could meet her needs.

When inquiring about therapeutic services of any kind, being able to give a detailed description of why you are seeking those services can greatly enhance the conversation, and more fully answer your questions as to whether this modality will be beneficial for you or your loved one. There are 3 things to mention within the first 5 minutes of a conversation with a potential therapist:

Diagnosis: While the diagnosis isn’t everything, knowing it can be of great help to the therapist you are speaking with. This will help them immediately narrow down the most common goal areas for that diagnosis, as well as give them the ability to provide some intervention examples that would be applicable. It’s also helpful because the therapist can then state if they have experience in that area, or if a referral would be appropriate. Also be able to discussing the main areas that need development if the diagnosis is an uncommon one.

Age: A music therapy session for a 4 year old is very different from a music therapy session for a 15 year old, even if the cognitive ages are similar. Knowing the age of the person who may receive services can help the therapist to further narrow down the list of possible interventions they might mention to you in an example of how music therapy works.

Strengths: We love to build on strengths. Telling the therapist you are speaking to what you or your loved one are really good at gives the therapist a chance to know the client a bit more than just what may be ‘wrong’ with them. I had the opportunity to explain slide guitar after someone told me that their loved one fancied themselves a guitar play, but did not have the motor coordination and strength necessary to finger chords on the fretboard.

Having these 3 things ready to go and at the forefront of your mind when speaking to a therapist can go long ways in avoiding the time taken to determine your needs are best met elsewhere. If the person on the other end of the conversation can’t give you an idea of what treatment would be like from these three pieces of information, you might be best served by moving on. Imagine being able to know from just a brief phone conversation if the offered services could truly be beneficial!

Do you know of anything else that should be first 5 minutes of information when talking to a therapist about services? Share it in the comments!