Music Therapy and Private Practice: Recommendations on Financial Viability and Marketing

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This paper focuses on financial issues and marketing skills relevant to private practice in music therapy. The information was gleaned from existing studies in music therapy and business literature as well as through a survey of music therapists identified as either self-employed or in private practice in the 2002 AMTA Sourcebook. Questionnaires were mailed to 465 therapists yielding a 62% (n = 288) response rate. Responses indicate the following instruments or equipment most essential to private practice: guitar, tambourines, maracas, a CD/tape player and CDs/tapes. The majority of the respondents recommended more start-up capital for establishing a private practice than they actually had when they began. Finally, 72% of the respondents used two or more reimbursement methods for their business and 41% use three or more. With regard to marketing, word-of-mouth and finding ways to make the services concrete to a potential customer were the most popular strategies.

Introduction

In most instances, students enroll as music therapy majors because they are interested in health care and helping others. The transition from motivation to professional competence, however, requires the development of specific clinical skills. In order to prepare potential music therapists to assist others, the competency-based curriculum endorsed by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) emphasizes the development of relevant musical skills, knowledge of specific disabilities or conditions, and the clinical methods needed to function effectively in different health or educational settings. At the present time, information and skills specific to the "business" side of music therapy are not emphasized in the AMTA Professional Competencies, and, therefore, are less likely to be represented extensively in an already demanding undergraduate curriculum. This is not particularly surprising or inappropriate, given that many music therapists are employed by hospitals, clinics and schools in which the "business" side of therapy is addressed primarily by the budget officers within the agency. However, those music therapists who decide to set up private practice must not only be excellent clinicians, but must also be effective in managing a business. This paper focuses on financial issues and business skills required by music therapists who are self-employed as consultants or within private practice. It will include a review of existing articles and books written by music therapists in private practice, a discussion of relevant information on financing and marketing from business experts who specialize in entrepreneurship, and then expand on existing information by presenting data on financing and marketing as gathered through a national survey of music therapists who are in private practice.

Review of Literature

Related Music Therapy Literature

To date, only a handful of studies address directly the formation and operation of a music therapy private practice, but these resources provide a useful foundation for understanding the business side of private practice. Several papers and books are based upon the "real-life" experiences of establishing private practices (Behnke, 1996; Gfeller, 2002; Knoll, Henry, & Reuer, 1999, 2000; O'Brien & Coldstein, 1985; Oliver, 1989; Reuer, 1996).

One of the earliest articles on this topic was written by Suzanne Oliver (1989), who outlines the step-by-step creation of her contractual private practice, Music Therapy Services of Arizona (MTSA), which she established in 1982. She describes the agency's formal business plan and offers practical business considerations for therapists who want to start their own private practice.

Oliver describes the business plan as the "what, why, and how" of her business (p. 97), established at the inception of the agency, which guides her in making important business decisions. Oliver's business plan includes the formal goal of the agency, which is referred to by some business experts as the positioning statement. …