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Interning During a Pandemic

Re-posted from Able ARTS Work's Tumblr, En Process. Original post on March 4, 2021.


Hey there! My name is Marie Metcalfe, I am a music therapist at Able ARTS Work and was previously Able ARTS Work’s first completely virtual intern from July 2020 to January 2021 at The Cultural Education Center for the Arts (CECA)!

Music Therapy Internship Supervisor, Christina Ebersole (left), standing with Music therapy Intern Marie Metcalfe (right). Both are wearing able arts work shirts and holding up peace signs.
Music Therapy Internship Supervisor, Christina Ebersole (left), standing with Music therapy Intern Marie Metcalfe (right).

After a couple months of adjusting into a fully virtual internship, it was time to begin planning out the details of my case study, which proved to have some roadblocks… Typically, internship case studies are designed to be done in 1:1 sessions however, three individuals that I asked to be a part of my study declined due to the busy and hectic schedules they already had, logging into zoom for classes multiple times a day. When program was in-person, students were available all day and caregivers wouldn’t have to be as involved in assisting them, and though an individual always has the choice to accept or deny being a part of a study, it was easier to accept when at program.

So, there I was, with the clock ticking, needing to make some game time decisions! Finally, with some guidance from my supervisor, it was determined that I would take over our program’s Track 3 afternoon class and conduct my music therapy study in group sessions (via telehealth). The study lasted seven weeks, beginning November 2nd and ending December 18th. I chose ten individuals as a control group (made up of students that most frequented class) and collected data on them. My main focus was to overall decipher the “Successes and Challenges of Conducting a Music Therapy Group with Adults with Developmental Disabilities with and without Assistance through Telehealth.” My hypothesis was that “if isolation is required, then music therapy through telehealth is imperative and equally as beneficial for adults with disabilities as it is in person.”

Zoom screenshot of CECA program celebrating Halloween.
Zoom screenshot of CECA program celebrating Halloween.

There were times going into my case study that I was unsure of myself or concerned about the accomplishments that I was hoping to achieve, but I had such great supervision and just kept faith that I could confidently facilitate sessions that would be impactful in some way for our students, and the combination of trusting in others as well as myself got me through it!

I focused on working on two specific goals with the students which were social goals and language development (both verbal and body language). Under social goals, the objectives were to make binary or independent choices and to assist and encourage others; and under language development goals, the objectives were to respond vocally or physically and to musically, vocally, or physically express oneself.

Prior to beginning my internship, I completed a rather extensive review of literature, this review assisted me significantly throughout the study, specifically one focusing on a recent review of virtual music therapy (VMT) and telehealth resources. There were four methods that I utilized in my sessions which were MadLib songs, Music MashUps, Spin the Wheel Sing Alongs, and my personal favorite, Jingle Jams. Jingle Jams was well received by the students, it was the one with the most original content, and was able to be completed within one session (rather than extended over multiple sessions) which provided for a complete session that offered pride and closure to the students. The jingle concept was to open the class with a popular/familiar commercial jingle (played from Youtube), vote on a product and brand name, prompt students to choose elements about the brand (both with binary choices and independent suggestions), make musical elemental choices, and put it all together! I found that it was meaningful to the students to use their names and focus on things that they care about as product and brand ideas (e.g. PJ’s Pancakes, Maria’s Mmm Good Tacos, Ann’s Art Store, etc.)

Both challenges and successes were discovered and duly noted throughout my study. Challenges included the lack of physical interaction with students (which contributed to questioning of trust building), internet/device issues, soft-ware issues, and self-doubt. Feeling so distant from students was and likely is the most difficult aspect of telehealth, the only consolation to this issue was having assistants/caregivers with students. Some students had assistance on a daily basis (which was monumental to their ability to achieve goals), some rarely or never had assistants (which was difficult at times), and some students didn’t need assistants, but that didn’t lessen the fact that lack of physical interaction burdened the experience. Often times there is not much that can be done about internet or device issues, but they are there regardless, and how one navigates them is essential to conducing class with confidence and grace. And software issues can also be difficult to avoid, but the more and more I got to know my programs and became comfortable using them over zoom, the better sessions were facilitated.

There were definitely personal challenges faced as well, I felt the biggest one was being unsure if I was making a connection with the students. I kept thinking back to two years prior when I was assigned to CECA, Able ARTS Work as my first student field work site (in-person). This experience gave me the opportunity to meet a majority of the students that I was working with throughout my internship, and I kept thinking “hopefully they remember me in person from two years ago.” As I delved deeper into my case study, I realized that the students were so open and welcoming that meeting them prior didn’t necessarily matter to our connection, that prior experience was more for my benefit in understanding how to communicate with them than their benefit of knowing me! I found ways to connect with them by sharing personal stories and experiences of what I may have done over the weekend, or how I decorated my house for the holidays, and as my study and internship was coming to a close, students were saying my name on a normal basis and showed trust of our relationship through their communication and responses to my sessions.

Amongst the ash of challenges, rose the fresh air of successes that made the study well worth-while. As mentioned above, help from caregivers was imperative at times, trust and understanding did seem to be gained over time (as students were responding well to sessions and saying my name, reassuring me I was making an impact), organization in session planning and data collecting was key, and being able to reach the students in a dire time of isolation was possible! Through this all I realized that my self-confidence grew as my self-doubt deteriorated and my hypothesis was proven correct, that music therapy through telehealth is imperative and equally as beneficial for adults with disabilities as it is in person (specifically during a time of a global pandemic). Though our students often mention missing program or express a desire to go back, they have also conveyed their appreciation, acceptance, and love for telehealth as well, and telehealth sure doesn’t seem to be going anywhere!

As my internship was coming to an end, I was sad I would have to inevitably say my goodbyes, particularly to the students. However, after interviewing for Able ARTS Work, I was offered a position as a full-time music therapist and am ecstatic to say that I’m not going anywhere either! I will never forget my experience as an intern at Able ARTS Work; the staff was wonderful to work with, the supervision I was provided was impeccable, the students were a joy to work with daily, and though I may not have had the typical in-person experience I once expected to have, I learned that I am flexible and able to adjust in any circumstance, providing a personal and unique experience to students, which fills me with happiness, pride, and confidence. I am so grateful to my supervisor, Christina Ebersole, and CEO Helen Dolas, for their guidance and support into and through my internship experience.


Read Music Therapy Intern Reon's reflection of her virtual internship and Music Therapy Internship Supervisor Christina's tips to successfully navigating an internship.


Marie Metcalfe is a music therapist at Able ARTS Work's CECA day program and was the 2020 - 2021 Remo Zildjian Music Therapy Intern.


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