Meeting Patient Complexity in the Music Therapy Session

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Patient complexity has been a topic of increasing interest as healthcare moves towards a more holistic approach to patient care. While it is helpful to understand patients as members of diagnostically defined groups, patient complexity calls upon providers to take a broader look at the values and needs of their individual patients. Identifying a patient as complex means that their primary need exists in relationship to other factors. In order for the treatment of the patient’s primary need to be most effective, a provider must ensure that these related factors are also addressed.

Music therapists encounter complexity in a variety of settings. The patients we serve are human beings whose health and well-being are impacted by physiological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. Any one patient being assessed for services is likely to have numerous potential goals appropriate for inclusion in the music therapy treatment plan. It is essential for the clinician to develop a framework for decision-making with regard to what areas ought to be emphasized in their work with clients.

This author posits that music therapists may be disciplinarily predisposed to an understanding of patient complexity due to the wide variety of populations and settings in which they are trained. This requires that all music therapists develop an understanding of the treatment of needs across many domains in contrast with professions that narrow their scope based upon areas of human function. However, implementing this knowledge can be challenging in the field.

Practicalities of the work setting often require that the music therapy clinician center a specific area of need in treatment planning and implementation. This can lead to burnout as clinicians are asked to focus on treatment plans that do not align with what they believe clients most need and/or experience feelings of inadequacy as treatment plans fail. By incorporating recent literature from the fields of medicine, nursing, and psychology among others, this presentation will provide attendees with language for describing this phenomenon that is shared by other professionals within the workplace.

The presenter will discuss the implications of complexity theory in their own work. This will include a description of their decision-making process in working with patients with substance use disorders undergoing medical hospitalization. Additionally, the presenter will discuss the impacts of applying a complexity framework on their clinical identity and experienced burnout.

Learner Objectives

1. Attendees will identify and communicate the impact of external factors on assessment results (II.C.2)
2. Attendees will develop skills to support creation of treatment plans which consider multiple factors (II.D.2)
3. Attendees will develop familiarity with language and theory from other disciplines with regards to the topic in order to strengthen interdisciplinary communication (II.D.3)
4. Attendees will recognize circumstances external to treatment aims which interfere with client responses to treatment (II.D.6; II.D.10; IV.A.6; IV.A.7)

Presenter Biography

Erin Rosen is a Music Therapist at West Virginia University. She received her MMT from Augsburg University in 2023. She provides services at WVUMedicine in both inpatient and outpatient settings.