What a joy to be in a field where I am continually encouraged and inspired.  Today I am reading British music therapist Gary Ansdell's Music for Life, an introduction to Creative Music Therapy with adults.  What struck me most was the clarity with which Andsell describes the value and necessity of improvisation in the music therapy process.  He writes:

"The gifts of improvisation - immediacy, involvement, unpredictability - are balanced by the demands it makes: to listen, to be aware, to dare to create; to remain in the present."

These thoughts are echoed by jazz pianist and improvising icon, Keith Jarret, in this video: The Art of Improvisation, confirming my intuit knowing that music and life are one and the same.

It was a pleasure being interviewed for this article appearing in the current Health and Wellness issue of our local Grand Magazine.  Many thanks to Barabara Aggerholm for this beautiful piece.
Please  note the new time for the Creative Wellness Workshop for Healthcare Professionals on June 16th.  The workshop will run from 1:00pm-4:00pm rather than in the morning.  I'm looking forward to this exciting afternoon!
I recently presented a paper at the Canadian Association for Music Therapy Conference in Montreal about the importance of teaching self-care to music therapy students.  In that presentation I shared that I view self-care as an essential part of working in a helping profession.  Self-care can be an important way to address and prevent compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout.  It’s also important not only because of what it prevents, but because of what it offers.  Meaningful and effective self-care offers healthcare professionals resilience, health and openness, allowing us to provide the best service for the people we work with and the potential to engage in thriving professional communities!  

After facilitating wellness workshops for healthcare professionals on-site to various local organizations, I'm pleased to offer a new workshop for individual healthcare workers in the community who are looking for a way to creatively process work-related stress and cultivate wellness.   Examples of healthcare workers who might benefit from the workshop are:

Social workers
Psychotherapists and other mental health professionals
Personal Support Workers
Child and Youth Workers

The workshop is happening on June 16th from 1:00-4:00pm at the sun-filled MusicPlus building in Kitchener.  You can download the information flyer below or view online in the “Wellness Workshop” section of this website.  To register, email deborah@inspiramt.caRegistration is limited to 12 participants with a minimum enrollment of 6.

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  As some people know, I have the privilege of providing music therapy services at Lisaard House Hospice, a residential cancer hospice providing end-of-life care for adults of all ages.  What began as a very small part of my week in terms of hours has, over the years, become a life-shaping engagement.  Each week at Lisaard House I am humbled by the grace and courage of the residents and their families.  Hospice care, which I knew little about in 2009 when I first walked through the doors of Lisaard House, is now something that I am a passionate advocate for. 

Last month, the Globe and Mail published Lisa Priest’s article “To go gently into that good night: When quality of death can enhance quality of life”.  The piece opens with an image of a woman playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on the piano beside her mother who has just passed away.  This image immediately touched me as I have experienced the power of music to contain grief, acknowledge sorrow, and convey love.

 Being a music therapist in hospice care means many things for me.  It is at once terrifically inspiring and incredibly challenging.  It requires an openness to meet each person where they are with authenticity and empathy.  For me it also requires faith in the music, the resident, the family members, and myself to collectively create an experience which at the best of times brings connection, healing, and transcendence.

On May 6th, 2012 I’m happy to once again take part in the Annual “Hike for Hospice”, a fundraising event across Canada that brings together organizations working together in hospice palliative care to raise funds and awareness in their community.  It is a great day filled with hope, spirit and community.

I invite people who are able to consider donating online, sponsoring a hiker, or joining the hike in their community.  This event makes a transformative difference in the quality of life for so many!

For further information about Hospice Care in Canada and how to get involved in the Hike for Hospice you can visit:

Canadian Virtual Hospice

Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association

I first asked the question: “so, what exactly is music therapy?” to the wonderful Fran Herman who I met at Lilith Fair in 1997.  Fran is a Canadian Music Therapy legend and meeting her changed my life.  I don’t remember her exact answer but I know what I took away from our conversation at the age of 17: music therapy is helping people through music. I was hooked. 

A few years later I was preparing for my audition into the undergraduate music therapy program at Wilfrid Laurier University program when a generous 4th year music therapy student offered some advice.  “They’re going to ask you why you want to be a music therapist...”, she began.  Okay, I thought, recalling my feelings meeting Fran on that sunny summer afternoon, I can handle that.  But then the wise 4th year added, “...and don’t say it’s because you love music and want to help people”.   I was in trouble.  Helping people through music is why I wanted to be a music therapist.  Isn’t that what music therapy is all about?

The following year, in the undergraduate music therapy program, I learned that defining music therapy was a lot more involved that I had initially thought.  I read Dr. Kenneth Bruscia’s Defining Music Therapy, a book listing more than 30 definitions of music therapy from around the globe.   For example, the Norwegian music therapist, Evan Ruud defined music therapy as: "the use of music to increase possibilities of actions" (Ruud, 1990).   The Uruguayan Association for Music Therapy states that: “Music Therapy is a paramedical career of scientific principles which comprises not only therapeutic aspects but also diagnostic and prophylaxis. (...)” (Bruscia, 1984).  Our own Canadian Association for Music Therapy defines music therapy in the following way:

“Music therapy is the skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist to promote, maintain, and restore mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Music has nonverbal, creative, structural, and emotional qualities. These are used in the therapeutic relationship to facilitate contact, interaction, self-awareness, learning, self-expression, communication, and personal development. (CAMT website, Information Section)”

Bruscia’s excellent text, and many others, helped me understand that the field and scope of music therapy was much broader, richer and complex than I’d known.  It also made explaining what I was studying at school to my relatives over the holidays quite a challenge.

I began practicing music therapy in 2004 and my definition of music therapy became increasingly informed by the people I worked with:  the man in long term care who wrote a song to say ‘goodbye’ to his wife; the group of teens with special needs who felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment by playing adapted electric instruments in a rock band; the woman who was experiencing severe depression and was able to express herself on the piano and feel heard.  How could one definition of music therapy possibly speak to all these experiences?

As I became drawn to work in mental health I returned to school to complete my graduate degree.  I immersed myself in the world of music therapy research, read many qualitative and quantitative studies and completed my first research project.  This academic perspective became an important part of my definition of the field.

Upon graduation, I practiced music therapy with a greater depth and understanding.  I began focusing primarily on mental and emotional health and wellness in my clinical work.  This allowed me to further clarify what music therapy was for me in my work.  I found myself defining music therapy with statements that reflect my approach and experience: music therapy allows people to self-express; music therapy facilitates communication in a way that words alone cannot; music therapy promotes creativity; music therapy develops interpersonal skills. 

As my work deepens, my definition of music therapy becomes simultaneously narrower and more expansive.  On one hand, I define music therapy by explaining aspects of the clinical modality that I happen to draw on primarily in my work.  However, there are other music therapists for whom very different statements are indicative of their diverse and equally valuable work in this field. 

This brings me to the challenge that I currently face.  Recognizing the depth and diversity of the work music therapists do makes defining music therapy a daunting task.  I find myself searching for a definition that honours all the people whose lives have been touched through this work, something that connects us all regardless of our approach or experience.  And somehow, for me, that original definition I took away on that sunny day when I first learned about music therapy is the one that speaks to the core of my understanding, it’s the definition that encompasses it all: music therapy is helping people through music.



Bruscia, K. (1998). Defining music therapy.  Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.

Ruud, E. (2002). Music as a Cultural Immunogen - Three Narratives on the Use of Music as aTechnology of Health. In I. M. Hanken et. al (Eds.), Research in and for Higher Music Education.

Festschrift for Harald Jørgensen. Oslo: Norwegian Academy of Music 2002:2.

March is National Music Therapy Month in Canada! To celebrate this, Tyler Stewart of the Barenaked Ladies as become an Ambassador for the Canadian Music Therapy Trust Fund. Hear what Tyler and other Ambassadors are saying about music therapy at: www.musictherapytrust.ca
Inspira has turned over a new leaf with a brand new site! Check our blog regularly for events, updates, and information.