Approximately 1,900 music therapists are members of AMTA and there are precisely 6,882 Board Certified Music Therapists. Why are music therapists not members of their professional association? I see AMTA publish the Benefits of Membership and post videos about why music therapists should be members, but I’m not sure they match up with my reasons, and I want to explore my perspective on AMTA membership. I was asked on Facebook to say why I was a member of AMTA several months ago. I didn’t respond to the #WeAreAMTA campaign, because, to be honest, I have difficulties with the association. They seem out of touch with their membership, as indicated by the big difference in the number of AMTA members vs MT-BCs. I thought I’d explore some of my difficulties and try to reconcile them for myself.
“It’s too expensive!”
Professional AMTA membership is currently $250 and the membership year starts in January. It is always a challenge for me, personally, to have that much money in January, and it annoys me when I can’t access membership areas of the website on January 1. My personal preference is that the membership year start in May or June. Regional officers tend to turn over then, after the Spring conferences, so regional budgets tend to run along similar timelines (June to May, rather than January to December). My own music therapy calendar tends to run from June to May, too. The reports from the November AMTA meetings are given at the following Spring conferences, so it makes sense to me that membership that I pay for in March or April (when I usually get around to paying AMTA dues) should carry me through the Spring conference. That’s also about the time that I start thinking about saving for next year’s memberships. If I saved up for AMTA membership all year long, I would only need to put away $20.84 each month, which isn’t all that much. I think I could do that better if I didn’t have to pay for it at the beginning of the calendar year. Plus, if I add saving for AMTA conference and Regional conference, I need to save around $200/month to cover travel, hotel, food, and registrations. The average MT salary is $50,000, according to the Workforce Analysis from 2014. So $200/month is about 5% of the monthly gross pay of a music therapist. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can be difficult to budget that much when you’re trying to pay student loans, feed a family, run a business, etc. Plus, I’m not sure my salary has matched the national average very often…
“The website is difficult to manage!”
I hate to complain about the AMTA website, because I know Angie Elkins works hard on it and it’s soooooo much better than it used to be. However, it took me 30 minutes to figure out how to find the 2014 Workforce Analysis and another 10 to figure out how to access it. (Once you purchase this item after logging into your AMTA online account, go My Account>My Transactions>My Downloadable Products and click on the item to open it. Then save to your local computer. That’s a lot of steps.) Nothing that I try to find on the website seems intuitive or user-friendly to me, which comes across as poor customer service. Now, I understand that the good people of the AMTA office are doing the best they can with the resources they have, but if I’m a new music therapist, looking for some help from AMTA on the website, and I can’t find what I’m looking for in a few clicks, then I might perceive AMTA as not serving me or meeting my needs.
“The Committees aren’t doing anything!”
Let me begin by saying much of my direct experience with being on committees is from a number of years ago, and we have seen improvement, and that should be acknowledged and appreciated. On the other hand, we still see a number of significant issues as we look from the perspective of someone considering being a member. Then again, when compared to my experience with being on the Continuing Education Committee for CBMT, it is clear that more can be done. If AMTA wants to add members, this is a place where significant improvement needs to be made.
So with that experience, I know first hand that this isn’t true – the committees are in fact doing things. Those committee representatives and Assembly Delegates spend a lot of time in meetings and have to pay for the privilege to attend them at conferences. However, from the perspective of a prospective AMTA member, when I look at the committee pages on the website, the reports are either several years old or non-existent, which may appear to mean that work isn’t being done. Plus, when I did serve on a committee, I did not feel appreciated or that the work I did mattered because it took so long to see the fruits of that work, meaning the committee recommendations were slow to be acted upon. Please remember that my personal experience with this was MANY years ago, and things have changed dramatically since I last served on an AMTA committee.
“AMTA keeps asking me for money!”
Every year, I get requests to donate additional funds on top of my membership dues (commemorative pins, supporting scholarships, donating to the archives, etc). Membership dues and publications and other AMTA products are all found in what is called “Bookstore” on the website. However, there are 25 books available. There are 17 donations you can “purchase” in the “Bookstore.” It appears that most of the fundraising for AMTA is done by asking members to donate money. I don’t see anything wrong with asking members to donate money to a non-profit member organization. However, over 5% of my monthly salary already goes towards membership and conferences. If 50% goes to living expenses (rent, utilities, etc), 20% goes to investing for retirement, and 30% goes to groceries, entertainment, clothes, and other flexible costs, etc., that’s asking a lot to give more on top of the 5%. My understanding of non-profit organizations (which is limited) is that the executive director is responsible for fundraising, among other duties. I’d love to see more fundraising from sources outside of the music therapy professionals.
All That Said, I Am A Member of AMTA – So why am I a member?
- Because I think it’s important to be a part of the organization that sets policies for education and training of music therapists. I feel strongly about what music therapists should be able to do and every music therapist represents my chosen profession. I want my profession to be represented well, which means I want music therapists to have certain skills when they graduate. Therefore, I want to be represented and have a voice in the education and training, which I can only have as a member of the organization that sets them.
- Because I think it’s an ethical obligation. As a member of AMTA, I am bound to follow the Code of Ethics and the Standards of Clinical Practice. Non-members are not bound to follow these. If they happen to follow them anyway, the public has no protection via the Ethics Board and the non-member MT has no representation on the Assembly, which sets these policies, or the committees which review and revise them.
- Because of the work that Judy Simpson, Cindy Smith, and others in the front office do. If my membership dollars help give just those two ladies a raise, then it’s well worth it.
- Because the Government Relations work and State Recognition Operational Plan affect the work that I do, and I want a voice in that process, too.
- Because I receive the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives in my mailbox. As a clinician, I find it difficult to keep up with research, yet I feel it’s important to know what current music therapy research is saying so that I can maintain ethical practice and remain current in my field. Receiving the two music therapy publications in the mail helps me to do a little bit less work to find and read the research.
- Because I get to vote for AMTA and Regional leadership and other matters. I also have access to representatives on the Assembly and on Committees and Boards who will listen to my opinions and concerns. They may not agree with them or follow through with what I think is best, but my opinion has a place in the organization. And if I really want to change how things are done, I have the opportunity to run for office or Assembly, or serve on a committee or board.