Music Therapy Advocacy and…Beauty Pageants?

So I’m jumping on the blogosphere bandwagon here; I present to you The Music Therapy Diva’s Official Music Therapy Advocacy Blogpost! January is Music Therapy Advoacy Month, and many music therapists around the country are using social media to get the word out about the awesomeness and effectiveness of music therapy. Facebook has been buzzing with a little video parody of “Somebody That I Used To Know” (thanks George Center!), and Twitter is seeing hashtags like #LoveMusicTherapy, #MTAdvocacy, and #FollowMTweek (thanks Ben Folds!). But what does music therapy advocacy have to do with beauty pageants?

The recent crowning of Miss America last weekend made me reflect on my own past experience with pageants and how that gave me the opportunity to advocate for my chosen field and soon-to-be profession. In the past, pageantry has gotten a lot of flack for seeming “superficial”. A young woman with a Vaseline-plastered smile chattering on about world peace is the image that comes to most people’s minds when they hear the term “beauty pageant”. But these pageants are far more than fake tans and hair extensions. These girls work hard to pursue their education while making a difference in their world, all while looking gorgeous and maintaining a swimsuit-ready figure. As music therapy advocates, we can use pageantry to promote our cause. Not sure how? Keep reading.

My Experience As a Beauty Queen and Advocate


My sophomore year of college, I was privileged and honored to hold the title of Miss William Carey University 2010. I entered and won the pageant at WCU, which qualified me to compete in the prestigious Miss Mississippi pageant. As a preliminary pageant to Miss America, the competition involved a talent portion, evening wear, on-stage question, swimsuit (in front of everyone, ick!), and, often hailed as the most important part, an interview portion. One other very important component (although unjudged) is the personal platform of the contestant, in which she uses her year of reign to promote awareness and dedicate her time to an issue or need she feels is relevant in today’s society.


My chosen platform that year was Music Therapy for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities. What a mouthful, right? And the media always seemed to choose a different name for it, such as “Music Education for the Mentally Disabled” (wha?). One even went so far as to print “Musical Therapy” as my platform. As much as I love musical theater, I don’t think I would go around for a year promoting musicals as a form of therapy for individuals diagnosed with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But anyway, enough of my soapbox.


In addition to riding in parades, signing autographs, and waving and smiling, I got the opportunity to use my crown to create awareness of music therapy (specifically in Mississippi) and its effectiveness for my chosen population.  I volunteered at area elementary schools and lead group music activities for their Special Education classes, giving their teachers a “taste” of what music therapy is and does. I spoke at a local Rotary luncheon about the importance of using music therapy with individuals with developmental disabilities (but not before I passed out instruments and sang “The Crawdad Song” to begin my presentation). But the biggest way that I advocated for music therapy that year was simply by answering the question “So what is your platform?”, which led to the more commonly heard question “What is music therapy?” During my interview, the judges were interested in my platform as well, and if they didn’t know what music therapy was before the interview, they certainly knew what it was after. I even got the opportunity to talk to a former Miss America about music therapy!

How You Can Help

I am so thankful that the Miss America Organization gave me the opportunity to advocate for my future profession. I encourage any girl between the ages of 17-24 to compete in the Miss America Scholarship Program not only to get money for school, but to use it as a way to advocate for music therapy. Even if you don’t choose music therapy as your platform, having music therapy as your major will invoke lots of questions about. Use your interview to put in a “plug” for music therapy, especially if your chosen platform can benefit from MT services. Although the platform concept is unique to the MAO, most other pageant systems emphasize community service, so I encourage any young woman who is interested in competing in pageants to go for it!

If you aren’t an unmarried female who falls in that age range, I encourage you to seek out local AND state title holders with a music-related platform (there is at least one girl around the country every year with a platform specific to music therapy). Reach out and talk to them, find their blog or website, ask for ways you can donate your time or money, or even give them the opportunity to donate their time to you. Titleholders are always looking for new ways they can speak or get community service hours relating to their platform. And usually when a person with a crown talks, people listen.

You don’t have to be or know a beauty queen to be an advocate; there are TONS of ways to advocate for music therapy as a student, intern, or professional. The links to some blog posts below give many wonderful ideas of things you can do right now to get the word out about music therapy!

All links were taken from

To find your state and local titleholders, visit

Feel free to leave thoughts, questions, suggestions, or comments!


A Little About the Baddour Center and Music Therapy

Although many of you who read my blog posts may already be established music therapy professionals, interns, or students, a lot of you may have no idea what music therapy or the Baddour Center is. It seems that no matter where I go or who I speak with, when I say ” I’m a music therapy intern at the Baddour Center”, the response is either a blank stare followed by ” Oh….neat!”, or “What is music therapy? What is the Baddour Center?” So in this post, I will answer a few questions that I get often in hopes that you will know a little more about my internship and future profession.

1. What is music therapy?

For some reason, I am temporarily stumped when asked this question, even though it’s the question I get asked the most! The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as ” the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” It is a valid healthcare profession, and there’s TONS of scientific studies proving its effectiveness (exciting, right!?). When asked this question, I usually say something along the lines of “although it sounds like I teach music, I help others reach non-musical goals using a variety of musical methods.” I usually follow that with an example, such as using the Hokey Pokey to teach the difference between left and right. There is a need for music therapy in all kinds of populations, from children with communication disorders to senior citizens in a nursing home. The wonderful thing about music therapy is its adaptability.

2. What is The Baddour Center?

The Baddour Center is a residential community for adults with a diagnosis of mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. It is private (meaning NO government funding) and non-profit, serving more than 150 adults from all over the country. The residents have opportunities to work, participate in various community activities (my department), and receive services that help each individual reach his/her fullest and brightest potential. The Baddour Center is “committed to giving men and women the opportunity for lives of dignity, joy and hope. Through the dedication and support of family and friends, residents accomplish goals, enjoy lifelong friendships, and realize their greatest potential in every area of life.”

3. What will you be doing at The Baddour Center?

As the music therapy intern, I will have many opportunities to utilize the performing and creative arts to help the residents reach their goals of personal growth. I will get to choreograph dance routines, help with art projects, lead group games and activities, work with Baddour’s travelling choir The Miracles, help with the Spring play, and eventually have a full caseload of residents for individual music therapy sessions. The Baddour Center employs the Person Centered Planning approach, which means that each individual’s goals, strengths, and needs are put as Priority #1. What this means for the Music Therapy department at TBC is that we see what the residents want for themselves, then use music to help them achieve their goals. Music therapy is not forced, nor is it trying to “fix” an individual’s weakness. It is looking at what he/she is good at, then giving him/her the opportunity to grow and shine!

4. What is an intellectual disability?

“Intellectual disability” is the term formally known as “mentally retarted”. As society has changed, so must the term for the developmental disability. Persons with intellectual disabilities have a lower than average I.Q. score and difficulties with adaptive behavior skills. This can be a result of birth defects, environmental factors, mutation in certain genes, and other contributing factors. The diagnoses are mild, moderate, severe, and profound based on I.Q. and abilities to adapt behaviorally.The Baddour Center is for persons with a diagnosis of mild and moderate intellectual disabilities. Some diagnoses represented at TBC are Down syndrome, William’s syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Autism, and other developmental disabilities.

5. How long will you be at TBC? What are your plans after?

I will be at Baddour until the end of June. AMTA requires that all music therapy students undergo a six-month clinical internship upon graduation. I will graduate from William Carey in August 2013, probably take a month or so to prepare for the board exam, pass the CBMT exam (hopefully!), then become Katelyn Farris, MT-BC. Grad school is definitely in my future, but I am not sure exactly when and where. I would love to get at least a year of experience as a practicing music therapist before I decide what field of graduate music therapy I want to pursue.

Hopefully I have answered some of your questions. Please feel free to ask me anything at If you would like more information on The Baddour Center, music therapy or becoming a music therapist, feel free to ask or visit or

Hello and Welcome!

Let me begin my first blog post by introducing myself. My name is Katelyn Farris, a 22 year-old music therapy student at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS. My hometown is Runnelstown, MS (haven’t heard of it? It’s about 30 miles outside of Hattiesburg, MS).I have lived there all of my 22 years until about a week ago when I moved from the Deep South to Southaven, MS (about 10 minutes south of Memphis). Upon completing all coursework at an accredited university, the American Music Therapy Association requires that a six-month internship under the supervision of a Board Certified Music Therapist be completed. My internship is at The Baddour Center in Senatobia, MS, a residential community for adults with mild and moderate intellectual disabilities. This past week was my first week, and I absolutely LOVE it so far. I look forward the next six months of my life, and I wll be sharing my experiences with you, my readers.

 One of my assignments as part of my internship is to keep a journal of some sorts on my experience as an intern, so here it is! Through this blog, I hope to connect with other interns and professionals in my field, share what I have learned as an intern and future music therapist, and hopefully give any insight I gain through experience. Internship is a HUGE part of growth in a music therapists’ journey, and this blog will document that growth. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more adventures!