The Music Therapy Intern’s Declassified Survival Guide, Part 2: Making the Most of Your Internship
by Annie Roberson, MT-BC
Welcome to part two of a three-part series on music therapy internship tips! The first post, found here, covered finding and applying for internships. This post will give tips and tricks for making the most of your internship.
Let’s get started!
Making the Most of Your Internship
Your music therapy internship is an incredible opportunity to grow not only as a clinician but also as a professional and a well-rounded human being. These next 1200 clinical hours will fly by, and going in prepared will let you squeeze the most educational value out of your experience while still keeping your sanity.
We’ll start with the foundation of your internship: developing clinical skills.
It’s tempting to play it safe to avoid showing your weaknesses in front of your supervisors. Personally, I think this is a great way to waste the next six-ish months of your life.
Think about it this way: there will never again be a time in your life where you will have a back-up music therapist waiting to swoop in a save the day if you crash and burn.
Better to make mistakes and learn from them now while you’re working under a supervisor than down the road when you’ll have no one to save you in the moment and help you work through how to improve! Be honest about your areas of need both with your supervisor and yourself, and create an action plan to work on these specific areas. Take risks and ask your supervisor to challenge you! Don’t just be receptive to feedback, be eager to hear different perspectives and implement new strategies.
Your internship is also an excellent opportunity for growth as a professional.
Throughout your internship, take note of the way that business is run at your particular site. Some specific elements to look at:
- Where do your clients come from?
- How are they recruited?
- What kind of pay do the full-time therapists receive, and where does the money come from?
- What administrative duties outside of clinical work are the music therapists responsible for?
- What does professionalism look like in your setting?
Knowledge of these aspects of professional life will be an invaluable asset once you’re moving on from your internship and into a paid music therapy position. If there are specific administrative or professional skills you’d like to work on, ask your supervisor! Remember, you’re doing an internship to learn. You might as well squeeze as much learning as you can out of your internship experience!
Now, on to what could be either your biggest asset or a significant stumbling block – your relationship with your supervisor.
Every internship site’s supervision structure is different, so it’s helpful to know some background info about your unique situation going into your internship. Some things to ask:
- How many supervisors do you have?
- Is there a hierarchy of supervisors if there are multiple?
- When and how often are your supervision meetings?
- What kind of communication will you have with your supervisors – is it okay to text them or email them? Can you contact them after work hours?
Having a handle on these aspects of supervision before you start will make your transition into intern life much easier.
It’s also important to understand your supervisor’s preferred method of supervision compared to your own. What may feel to you like your supervisor being distant, nagging, or harsh might simply be a miscommunication about how their supervision styles. Be open and honest with your supervisor about anything that’s bothering you, and be willing to work towards a compromise. Your relationship with your supervisor can make or break your internship experience – make sure you’re putting your best foot forward to maintain this crucial partnership!
*Shameless plug: Navigating supervisor relationships is easy when you have amazing supervisors like I did! Learn more about Heart and Harmony’s internship program here.
Finally, the part of your internship that is most often ignored but will make the biggest difference in your success as an intern: your personal life!
Being an intern can be really, really hard. You’re not quite a student, not quite a professional, you’re removed from the social networks you’ve just spent your college career building, you’re trying to navigate the real world, professional challenges, and personal development all at one time, and chances are you’re doing it on a budget that consists solely of one big ol’ goose egg.
I know that I’ve just spent an entire blog post basically advising you put the pedal to the metal throughout the duration of your internship, however, your first priority during your internship (as in all seasons of life!) should be taking care of yourself. I think this quote from a wise Facebook philosopher sums it up best:
I stand wholeheartedly by my earlier statement about internship being a time for clinical, professional, and personal growth. That being said, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to learn and function at your own capacity.
The rate of growth and development during your internship is rapid, as is the rate at which the expectations your supervisors have for you will be raised. The question isn’t if you will have moments/days/weeks when you don’t succeed, but when.
Read that again: There absolutely will be periods of time in your internship when you feel like you’ve failed. And that is absolutely okay!
Let the weight of feeling like you have to be perfect for every single one of those 1200 clinical hours slip away. You will mess up, and you will wake up the next morning, and the world will still be turning like it was the day before.
Once you’ve accepted that there will be times in your internship when you’ll struggle in some way, you can start planning for those moments so they won’t feel so earth-shattering when they do occur.
Take a moment to reflect on your own tendencies. How do you typically react when you’re stressed? What is the first thing you tend to neglect when things start to unravel – food, physical activity, social life? My professors at The University of Alabama had us anticipate a negative reaction to stress and create an action plan to combat this negative reaction when it inevitably occurred. I found this to be an incredibly helpful tool to fall back on when I was in the thick of my internship and just didn’t have the daily brainpower for hardcore introspection.
Especially if you will be moving away from home for your internship, prioritize finding a social circle right away. Nothing is worse than coming home from a hard day at work and feeling completely alone. Whether you live with roommates, find a church, join a social club, or just take a walk around the neighborhood and chat with the neighbors each weekend, you need people to be your people!
Your internship is such an exciting time in your life! You will be pushed, encouraged, stretched, and given opportunities to flourish in ways you might not have even considered. Don’t stress! You have the skills, the knowledge, and the support networks to see you through. In as little as six months, you’ll be out in the real world as a practicing music therapist! Enjoy this unique season with all of its joys and challenges.
See you on the other side!
Questions? Comments? Any advice you’d give new interns? I’d love to hear it! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.