I Was Fired from My First Job as a Music Therapist

Kathy Schumacher opportunitiesWhile this post has a catchy title, it also could have been called “Transforming a Challenge into an Opportunity” — the theme for this year’s Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month. After reading posts and listening to stories from other music therapists (posted here), I started thinking about challenges in my career.

After graduating from UW-Eau Claire in 1996 and passing the Board Certification exam, I found myself moving to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to be near my boyfriend (now husband of 15 years). I took a full-time music therapy position with an adult day care for people with developmental disabilities. This seemed like a good fit, as I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent working in group homes while in college.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the standard of care in this setting was substantially lower than in any group home I had worked in. I will spare you the details, but it was difficult to spend time in this environment with staff who were clearly just putting in their time and not making any attempt to treat the clients with dignity. My direct supervisor was one of the worst offenders.

I don’t remember the specifics of how I attempted to advocate for the clients, but I do remember being interrupted in the middle of a music therapy session, being told that I was being let go on the grounds that I couldn’t get along with my supervisor, and being asked to carry out my belongings in front of the clients. In many ways, I was relieved. I had wanted to resign, but knew I needed to advocate for the clients.

I ended up writing a three page letter to the board of directors. This was a small nonprofit organization started by a church and they had no idea what was happening. I later learned that both my supervisor and her supervisor were fired.

Within a month, I found a parent teacher organization in Lake County, Illinois that was looking to start a music program in 19 classrooms for students classified as Trainably Mentally Handicapped. In what felt like a very short time, I was working more than full-time and thriving in private practice.

In a recent episode of the Music Therapy Round Table, Matt Logan offered this quote by an IBM executive: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.” I tracked it down (i.e. I googled it) and this quote has been attributed to Thomas J. Watson.

I thought about this, and it does seem to hold true, especially in terms of trying to create an online business or trying to find contracts for a music therapy private practice using a traditional marketing route.

What I found interesting is that this was not at all the case when I initially started my private practice back in 1997. Sure, I had to work hard (60-80 hours per week) and I covered an insanely large geographic area (600 miles per week in travel), but I did almost zero marketing.

All that I had to do was provide an extremely high quality service and the word spread. It was clear to observers that music therapy is extremely effective for improving functional skills. Once people saw music therapy in action, word of mouth took over and within three years, I was looking for subcontractors to help with my caseload. There are now at least 5 music therapists covering that area in Lake County and I’m not sure how many in the area that I traveled in Wisconsin. I count that as an opportunity realized and I’m thankful that I was fired and able to transform a challenge into many amazing experiences.


Music Therapy Advocacy


This post is being written in support of the 2015 Social Media Advocacy project. Read more about what other music therapists are saying here.  Do you have a story to share about a challenging situation being transformed into an opportunity?  Please share below in the comments!


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