Twenty-two years after graduating from Capilano University’s Bachelor of Music Therapy program, Jennifer Buchanan says, “I believe this profession is not one you choose — it is one that chooses you.”

And when you hear her life story, you would certainly have to agree.

“I was only 19 years old when I entered the program. It provided the actual content required to become an accredited music therapist, but also helped promote my maturity to be prepared to work with an array of clients — each coping with unique gifts and challenges. What I loved about Cap’s Music Therapy program was how rich and multi-layered it was. I give a lot of credit to my education and to the leaders in the music therapy community. They not only created a  program at Cap that prepared me for the future, but were also mentors in the field themselves — continuing to see clients and transforming people’s lives even while they educated us.”

The program requires a 1,000-hour internship after the course work is completed, and Jennifer was fortunate to land an internship in Calgary where she worked in the community with Gaile Hayes, another Cap graduate.

Now, the owner of JB Music Therapy in Calgary employs fifteen full-time music therapists, provides services to 1,600 clients each week, is president of the Canadian Association for Music Therapy and somehow still finds time to supervise interns in the Cap U program.

Along the way, there have been struggles. “Music Therapy is often the first program cut from health care and education when the economy dips, yet seems to be a pride of many agencies, as indicated by how often music therapists are featured at annual general meetings and in the media. But one year my accountant said, ‘Well Jennifer, I don’t know how you did it but you made the impossible business, possible.’”

Over the years, Buchanan has written Tune In, a highly regarded book about the value of music therapy, and has become a prolific public speaker and a tireless advocate for music therapy.

And there are still challenges. “Twelve years after my initial stint, I am again the president of the Canadian Association for Music Therapy. This position gives me a unique viewpoint on the state of music therapy not just in the West but across the country. For example in Ontario, music therapy is being regulated under the Ontario College of Psychotherapy — this is a huge shift in our professional profile in that province.”

“This year, after I spoke at a conference in PEI, I was approached by the President of the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society who asked, ‘What have you done so far to lobby the government to let them know that music therapy makes a difference and can reduce medication usage and potential elder abuse.’ ‘Well,’ I stuttered, and then said ‘not enough.’ In that moment, I knew that we have a bigger role that we can play and that society seems to want us to play — they want us to stand up and advocate for all the good things music therapy can do for our children and our seniors. As a good friend of mine said, ‘You need to stop keeping music therapy the most valuable secret.’”

“It is really important that we continue to promote music therapy as the profession it is — one that has specialized training, a well-defined and intensive internship, standards of practice and a code of ethics. It is a very complicated and meaningful field of study serving a wide range of population groups — there is a lot to learn.”

Jennifer describes music therapy as “the art and science of using music to transform lives” and volunteers this extremely poignant example.

“Recently, our firm supplied music therapy programs in the flood-torn zone of High River. After one session one adult with tears in her eyes said, ‘The music was able to do something we didn’t know we needed. We have not been able to cry since the flood. We have been in survival mode. We need to heal. The music is giving us a fresh path to do that.’”

Learn more about the Bachelor of Music Therapy program.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications