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

Getting to know Kathleen Coleman
by Karen Sholander

Talking with Kathleen Coleman on a Friday afternoon while sitting in my car in the Party City parking lot between visiting patients, it quickly became clear that Kathleen is a woman with high standards and definite passions for two things: music therapy as a viable profession, and Daschunds.

When she first moved in to her new home, Kathleen was glad to meet her new neighbors. Back then, less was known about our work. “I'm a music therapist,” Kathleen informed the folks across the street...cue crickets. “Hmm, will you be making noise late at night?” they asked. Many years later, more people seem to have it figured out, and due to public knowledge and online information, Kathleen finds she is talking to a better informed public (and neighborhood) about her services as an board-certified music therapist.

Kathleen has been practicing music therapy for 35 years, starting out in the Arlington and Birdville school districts. Although she loved this setting, things began to change in her personal life which made it more feasible for her to open a home office to serve clients of all ages with varying levels of abilities. Her office is the thing of dreams for music therapists: floor to ceiling shelves with organized instruments and materials, separate areas for work and home time, and an easy commute each day. Kathleen divides her professional life between therapy and teaching, wholeheartedly believing that diversification is the key to success. “It all stems from advice given to me by my social worker uncle many years ago,” she explains. “In order to avoid burnout when in a caring profession, you need three things: 1) appropriate pay for your expertise and education, 2) variety in your work, and 3) a life outside of your work.”

Once she gets going on the idea of appropriate pay, it is evident that this is a concept very near and dear to her heart. She notes that while there have been many positive changes in the field of music therapy over the years, one concerning trend is the lack of demand by newer, and even seasoned professionals for a viable wage. While she does not expect any of us to get rich while working as music therapists, she does believe we should be making more than our local baristas and sandwich artists. She urges job-seekers to consider not only the hourly pay they expect for a job, but also the amount of travel and preparation time that goes into each session. “If you're making $15 per hour of direct client time, but you travel 40 minutes each way uncompensated after spending an hour to prepare, do the math. Just do the math.”

One of the more positive trends Kathleen has noticed is the change in expectation for people with moderate disabilities. While not one of us can ever admit to having a favorite, one of Kathleen's more notable clients is a young woman she has seen for upwards of 25 years. When this youngster first appeared at Kathleen’s doorstep, she was like a little bird, according to Kathleen. The two year old was blind and severely limited in what she could do. In Kathleen's eyes, she was simply full of potential. Over the years, Kathleen has assisted this young woman to develop a life. One of the most memorable lessons included helping the family have a more positive quality of life as they spent driving time around town. Stopping, starting and slowing always caused anxiety for this young client, so Kathleen worked with her on a song about the movement of cars, used a toy car as a tactile aid, and even took the youngster out in the car to help her understand why cars don't go one speed all time. Because she couldn't see, the girl was unaware of things like stop signs and large trucks that got in the way. Kathleen's song and interventions helped her understand things she old not see, and helped make even the longest road trip bearable (until the child’s older brother accidentally threw out the girl’s toy car.  That caused the need for a stop at Wal-mart during a family vacation, which really does not improve anyone's quality of life. Sorry Sam Walton!)

Kathleen's life outside of her work includes rescuing Daschunds. If you follow her on Facebook you will be introduced to several of her success stories and favorite furry people. Her down time is not spent making music; in fact, her self-care includes anything but music. She works with her dogs on agility, as well as scrapbooking and reading.

After all this time as a music therapist, Kathleen still loves what she does. She keeps her radar focused not only on her own future, but that of her profession. She hopes for a viable future with genuine opportunities for music therapists and believes that all of us have a responsibility to make that happen for our newer colleagues and those who dream of making a difference through the therapeutic use of music. Kathleen strongly believes that WE need to set the bar high for future generations, or there won't be anyone forthcoming.

Editor's Note: I encourage anyone who is thinking of starting a new business, creating a new position, or contemplating asking for a raise to talk to Kathleen Coleman first! I guarantee you will be on fire after talking to her and you will feel competent to expect your worth. Look for Kathleen to present at an upcoming SWAMTA conference. Her working title is “An Ordinary Life: Private Practice For One.” With this presentation, Kathleen will give you the tools and confidence to start your own business, to expect fair compensation for your expertise, and to still have time for yourself to have a life outside of work. With a life outside of work and extra money to spend, does anyone want to rescue a sweet Daschund? I know exactly who to hook you up with…

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