Creative Careers in the Arts

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Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Linda Dessau: Music Therapist

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated June 9, 2018

Linda Dessau Linda Dessau is a music therapist and author of the creative sourcebook, Ten Ways to Thrive as a Creative Artist. Read Linda's creativity and self-care articles on Creativity Portal.

Q: What was your first job as a young woman?

A: My first job was babysitting. I also worked as a teacher in our religious school.

Q: How did you make the leap from day job to dream job, and find this fabulous career? What life experiences led you to explore such an interesting career option?

A: As a teenager I had two volunteer jobs in music — the first was singing in a women's ensemble that my singing teacher put together. We performed for seniors and it was so wonderful seeing how the music brought them to life, and being part of such a caring group. It was a wonderful musical experience, and I went on to seek out lots of other opportunities to sing in harmony with others. The second volunteer experience was through my high school arts program. We were introduced to the concept of music therapy by someone in the field, and we had the opportunity to be part of a music therapy program at a neighboring high school for students with physical and developmental disabilities. We got the opportunity to create and lead activities and it was incredibly rewarding. Both of those experiences led to my connection with the Canadian Association for Music Therapy. I joined as a student member and by the time I finished high school I already knew that's what I wanted to do.

Q: Describe the work you do. What is a typical music therapy session like?

A: In one my of typical music therapy sessions, I sing songs while accompanying myself on the guitar. Since I work with both adults and seniors, the music I choose may vary from the Beatles to Tin Pan Alley to Broadway to Stephen Foster, and anything in between. Aside from playing and singing, there is a lot going on "behind the scenes", as I'm striving to assist my clients in meeting many different non-musical goals such as improved communication skills, enhanced self-esteem and confidence, cognitive stimulation, relaxation, teamwork and joyful creative expression.

Q: What advice do you have for people wanting to break into this field? What kind of education or experience are needed to become a music therapist?

A: Music therapy is a health care profession and it requires specialized undergraduate and sometimes post-graduate studies. In Canada, the Canadian Association for Music Therapy is the self-regulating body for music therapists that approves music therapy educational programs). In the United States, it's the American Music Therapy Association. Both sites provide excellent information about training. I also recommend volunteering or job shadowing with a practicing music therapist to get a true sense of the work. You can find music therapists working with virtually every type of person with special needs, of all ages, as well as those who work with the general population, to help people with wellness goals such as relaxation, stress management and creative expression.

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of this work? Why do you enjoy it, and what keeps you excited about coming to work each day?

A: My clients keep me coming back. I am rewarded every time I see them breaking past the barriers of disability and shining the beauty of their spirits for all the world to see. And it's the music that helps them to do it. I'm just lucky to be able to be the conduit for that.

Q: What are some of the challenges inherent in this type of work, and how do you deal with them? Are there any frightening aspects to this work, in helping others to heal and face their demons?

A: It can be challenging and sometimes sad to spend time with people who are dealing with loss and disability. However my focus is on ability, not disability. I am connecting with the part of the person who is well, whole and beautiful. I don't see the disability. If I do find myself challenged by a particular client and the issues they're having, I have avenues of support such as supervision, peer supervision and therapy.

Q: Many people suffer from stress and over-work. Can you recommend simple techniques they can use at home to relax and wind down after a hard day?

A: Most people know exactly what relaxes them the most, it's just a matter of giving themselves the gift of doing it. Take a few quiet moments to jot down some ideas about what is most relaxing, and then book time for those things. For some people, listening to a certain kind of music will work. For others, a bubble bath. For others, a few moments reading a book or magazine just for pleasure. Calling a friend, getting some exercise and/or fresh air or practicing breathing and meditation techniques are some other ideas.

Q: What is your favorite type of music to listen to? What singers or songs help you feel inspired, creative, juicy, and full of ideas?

A: I enjoy so many styles of music it's difficult to narrow it down! And I also find that I must use the principle of entrainment — I need to match the mood I'm in first, before I can gradually lead myself into a different mood. So the music I choose will depend on where I'm starting out and where I want to go. If you sign up for the special report at, you'll receive our Top 10 Songs to Sing Out Your Stress. Those are all songs that I find inspiring. And, just to satisfy your curiosity, some of the CDs in my collection are by the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Vinx, Stevie Wonder, Simon & Garfunkel, Chicago, Sheryl Crow, Annie Lennox, Jann Arden and Blue Rodeo. I also love discovering and supporting local singer-songwriters.

Q: I've read a lot lately about the healing qualities of certain sounds. Can you recommend resources for those who may be interested in the healing qualities of music?

A: David Gordon has some good resources at

Q: Are there healing qualities associated with certain notes, or certain musical instruments. For example, when playing a drum, do you receive a different healing energy than someone who works with bells or flutes?

A: There definitely are. Sound healing is a profession that's separate from music therapy. I would direct your readers to sound healing professionals to learn more. Gary Diggins has some resources at

Q: Tell us a little bit about your other creative projects. You wrote, Ten Ways to Thrive as a Creative Artist. What kind of a response have you had from the public? What are your plans for the future?

A: I'm incredibly pleased with how "Ten Ways to Thrive as a Creative Artist" turned out. I hope that it's been useful to those who've purchased it. I'm not thinking too far into the future — I'm really enjoying how things are right now.

Q: You seem to never lack for inspiration… how do you cope with creative blocks? What do you do to inspire yourself when you're feeling stuck or unmotivated?

A: I try to take my own advice! I'm blessed to have supportive people in my life who gently remind me to do that. My sister, who edited virtually every article I wrote for the Everyday Artist newsletter, will often quote me back to me when she feels that I need to hear it. I also recognize now that I need to be in those stuck places sometimes and that's ok. They always pass.

Q: What is your greatest source of inspiration? What makes you shine and glow inside?

A: My greatest source of inspiration is my spiritual connection. When I feel that I'm being a clear channel for the gifts I was born to express, that's when I'm glowing the brightest.

Q: Who is your favorite Muse? What is your relationship like? Can you describe her?

A: I love your inventive and unique descriptions of the Muses. I think I have a piece of each of them inside of me, but it's God who helps me make the connection and draw on them. I like the concept of the Inner Artist, the most creative, beautiful, whole and undamaged part of myself.

Q: What are some of the "guilty pleasures" you indulge in?

A: Television, by far! I like the companionship and I truly think of some characters as my own friends. But I'm much better these days at making conscious choices about my TV watching. I'm not a slave to a network schedule.

Q: What is a typical day at work like for you? What is your schedule? How many hours do you work per week?

A: I have a lot of variety in my week, which I absolutely love. Monday is a full day in my home office, where I work on my freelance writing projects for clients (, as well as marketing activities for that business. Tuesday, I work all day on-site as a music therapist. Wednesday, I have a morning music therapy contract and an afternoon music therapy contract (2 hours each), and I'm home in between for lunch (I love that!). Thursday and Friday I have one (1 hour) music therapy session and the rest of the day I'm in my home office.

Q: What types of illness or disease can music therapy heal? How does it work on a physical and mental level? How does it work on an emotional and spiritual level?

A: As I mentioned earlier, music therapists are working with virtually every type of disability and illness, as well as with people who have wellness goals. Music affects the physical body at the cellular level — there are research studies you can read about on the REMO website — they have an amazing program called Health Rhythms. Music also touches us deeply on an emotional and spiritual level, and your readers need to look only as far as their own experience to see the evidence of that. My colleague Jennifer Buchanan just featured a nice article in her newsletter about music therapy and relaxation. The article also happens to feature Louise Montello, founder of Performance Wellness, who I have studied with.

Q: Do you believe that music therapy can happen anywhere? Can playing drums with a few friends around a campfire, listening to music, attending a concert, or even singing in the shower be transformational healing experiences, too?

A: Absolutely! Music is healing, therapeutic and transformative in all of those cases — but I prefer not to use the term music therapy for that. Music therapy is a health care profession, and using that term implies that a trained and certified music therapist is present.

Q: Describe a few simple techniques we can try at home to experience the healing benefits of music therapy.

A: Take note of the effect that specific songs, singers, instruments and styles of music have on you. Notice any changes to your mood, physical sensations, memories, thoughts, images or feelings. Then experiment with using that music when you want to bring on those moods, physical sensations, memories, etc.

Q: Music has long been known to possess a tremendous power to heal, inspire, and create change. Can you discuss the role of music in the rituals of the ancient world? Can you speak to the importance of music in your own healing journey?

A: Music has certainly always been recognized as a powerful healing force. In my own experience, music has helped me to cry when I needed to cry, wail when I needed to wail, and dance when I needed to dance. Most importantly, it allows me to channel the beauty of my spirit into the world. My role as a music therapist allows me to enable others to channel the beauty of their spirits into the world through music; for those gifts, I am truly blessed.

Learn more about Linda Dessau at Read her creativity articles on Creativity Portal.

Next Interview: Dorothy-Clare Jacobs, Occupational Therapy Assistant

©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

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