I recently had the privilege to travel to the beautiful city of Vancouver, Canada, to attend the 17th World Congress of Music Therapy in July, 2023. This blog post will not only shed light on the purpose and significance of this event, but also give you a glimpse into my personal experience attending such a gathering for the first time.
The World Congress of Music Therapy is a significant international event that gathers professionals, researchers, educators, and practitioners in the field of music therapy from around the globe. Every three years they come together to share knowledge, research findings, innovative practices, and experiences related to the profession of music therapy. Hosted by a World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT) organizational member in conjunction with a local host, the site of each congress is determined by a bid process undertaken by the WFMT Council six years in advance. The Federation makes an effort to circulate the location of the congresses among the eight regions. Past locations have included Tsukuba, Japan; Vienna/Krems, Austria; and Buenos Aires, Argentina, to name just a few.
The lineup of sessions and events feature workshops, keynote presentations, roundtable discussions, research paper presentations, symposiums, and endless networking opportunities. For six days, it's an array of ideas, experiences, and cultures coming together in harmony, if you will. Delegates who attend the congress get opportunities to facilitate connections between music therapy practitioners, researchers, and educators from different parts of the world, share knowledge, and promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of the diverse applications of music therapy in various contexts. The congress organizers also include optional excursions to sightsee and explore the host city as a way to further enrich the experience.
As a new professional in the music therapy profession, I couldn't help but feel excitement as I stepped into the bustling congress venue located at the Port of Vancouver. With nearly 800 delegates representing more than 40 countries, there was a new person to meet at every turn. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I quickly realized that everyone shared the same passion for music therapy, and that created an immediate connection between us all. I was eager to make new connections and throughout the congress, I made a point to introduce myself to as many people as I could. From interns just starting their journey in the field to seasoned music therapists with decades of experience, each conversation was an eye-opening experience. I found myself speaking with university professors who have devoted their lives to advancing the field and even retired music therapists who returned to witness the progress firsthand. The impact that music has on lives worldwide became apparent as fellow delegates shared their heartfelt stories and unique perspectives. In those moments, I felt like a small piece of a larger, interconnected community.
Beyond the personal connections, the congress itself was full of knowledge and inspiration. Workshops at this congress included topics such as cultural expressiveness with guitar, while research paper presentations opened my eyes to groundbreaking studies and developments occurring across the world, such as the recognition of music therapy in Spain. More in-depth spotlight sessions highlighted important topics such as the future of research in music therapy, use of telehealth, and diversity/inclusion in the field. Despite the challenge of absorbing a substantial amount of information within a mere six days and only feeling like I had scratched the surface, each topic and connection that I made contributed to enhancing my comprehension of the worldwide scope of music therapy, which I am very grateful for.
While the World Congress undeniably provided a wealth of knowledge and inspiration, there were two notable aspects that I felt were somewhat lacking: the presence of more active music making opportunities within the congress itself, and the cost of registration in order to even attend the congress. As much as I loved my experience, I believe it's important to acknowledge the barriers that hindered numerous individuals from participating, primarily the steep costs associated with congress registration and travel. A prevailing sentiment among some delegates was that the congress's price point posed a significant obstacle, making it infeasible for other individuals from their home countries to take part, not to mention those from other countries who were not represented at all. Although a commendable effort was made through the allocation of a limited number of scholarships aimed at alleviating registration expenses, my aspiration remains that the WFMT strives to reduce costs in the future. This can ensure greater inclusivity, ensuring that a wider array of individuals can have the opportunity to participate and contribute. Secondly, the congress itself could have been further enriched by incorporating more opportunities for attendees to actively engage in live music-making activities seamlessly within the sessions. The workshops and paper presentations were informative and inspiring, but there is a certain vibrancy that comes from direct engagement. Integrating more formal opportunities for live music-making would have allowed delegates to further connect with one another in the best way that we know how - by making music! While the congress was certainly an impressive gathering, these suggestions could potentially transform it into an even more immersive, interactive, and inclusive experience.
In conclusion, the World Congress of Music Therapy is more than just an event; it's a catalyst for progress in our profession. I believe it plays a pivotal role in fostering collaboration, igniting innovation, and uniting our global community of music therapists. This experience was transformative for me, both professionally and personally. It not only reaffirmed my unwavering belief in the healing and connecting potential of music, but also deepened my conviction in its capacity to uplift. This congress, undoubtedly, occupies a pivotal position in the advancement of music therapy as a healthcare discipline on a global scale. By fostering collaboration, fueling innovation, and contributing to the overall expansion and acknowledgment of music therapy's significance, it solidifies its standing as a respected and valued profession. If you are interested in learning more, I invite you to explore the World Federation of Music Therapy's website and stay tuned for future congress announcements: https://www.wfmt.info/.
Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Written by Brooke Osborne, MT-BC