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Red River Valley                                                  Summer 2016
A publication of the Southwestern Region of the American Music Therapy Association                                                                                             

Interview: Meet Nancy Hadsell

Written Karen Sholander, MT-BC

Nancy Hadsell woke up one morning in July in the early 1970s knowing music therapy was the path for her. With her enthusiastic nature she began her career that would, in many ways, shape the music therapy field as we know it today.

She had graduated earlier that year summa cum laude with a BA in Music with a focus on piano and theory from the University of Georgia.*

But that morning, she realized that all of her skills and experiences had led her to use the power of music to help others. She had volunteered throughout her life with special needs populations: teaching swimming to physically disabled, playing piano at a psychiatric hospital, and working at a doctors’ office. She had the musical skills, too: piano, guitar, ukulele, and had performed in her town with a musical group. It was the perfect formula (caring for people + passion for music= music therapist) for a career in music therapy. All of the pieces fit to create a picture of legacy making career.

Always one to keep learning, Nancy earned her Masters of Music Education with an emphasis in music therapy from Georgia and interned at DeKalb-Rockdale Psychoeducational Center in Atlanta, a school for children with severe behavioral and emotional problems. Nancy loved working with the kids and collaborating with all manner of staff: artists, PE teachers, psychologists, special education teachers, paraprofessionals, and social workers. Reflecting back on the treatments and limitations of the time, she understands that many of the kids have what we now know is Autism and Rhett Syndrome – back then, they were all lumped together as “­­severely emotionally disturbed.”

Nancy continued working at the school for three years as a registered music therapist (RMT) until a move from Georgia to Tennessee (Quick- name those tunes!) where she took on the challenge of starting up the music therapy program at Tennessee Tech. Later earning yet another advanced degree, this time a PhD in Music Education/Music Therapy from the University of Kansas (1985), she has been contributing to the education of music therapists ever since, leading the way at Texas Women’s University since 1984. Along the way, she forged friendships and collaborations with our field’s best and brightest, and they moved the practice forward with research as well as practical collaborations in the field.

One of the most important collaborations during Nancy’s tenure came as a result of  the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) Act in the late 1990s which by definition excluded music therapists from being able to practice in Texas except when employed by government or non-profit agencies. Nancy and others worked diligently to pass a bill that exempted music therapists from the definition of counseling, thereby freeing them to work again; then began the push toward state recognition which continues to this day. (Oklahoma was the most recent state to for MT to gain recognition and state licensure).

One piece of music therapy history that Nancy has experienced in person was the split of two music therapy professional organizations into the AAMT and NAMT, the fallout of which Nancy experienced during her master’s level work in the early 1970s. This split was due in large part to their differences in internship requirements. Later, of course, these two organizations merged into the AMTA (1998), which we all know and love, allowing both affiliate internships as well as national roster internships.

Nancy Hadsell is proud of the legacy she will leave in the growth and reputation of the Texas Woman’s University music therapy program. Under her leadership, TWU has grown from about 30 music therapy students to about 170. Nancy is excited especially by the dual master’s degree TWU offers in MT and LPC.

So with one year left before retiring, what does Nancy see in her future? She may continue teaching an online course or two through her beloved TWU. She plans to reside in Austin near her daughter and son-in-law – hopes to have grandchildren someday (hint, hint to Nancy’s family), and will most likely continue her work in the church. She does not plan to work as a clinical music therapist because she’s ready to leave all the planning and documentation behind (who can blame her?). She is also interested in giving some time to an organization in Austin that helps people navigate through the insurance/Medicare complexities. So although she may be retiring, she will still be an active volunteer for many needed causes. And the only rocking chair in Nancy’s future will be in the NICU where you will find her happily rocking and singing to babies.

*Editor’s note – apparently, those in the know just call it “Georgia,” I, apparently, am not in the know.

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