Student Profile: Emily Guthe, music therapy

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Music therapy student Emily Guthe works with a patient in the hospital.

Emily Guthe’s career path was changed by a visit to a place not normally associated with music: a nursing home. While pursuing a degree in choral conducting from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, she was part of a choir that toured Canada. Before a performance in a Toronto nursing home, she noticed that the audience included a resident who was unresponsive and slumped over in her chair.

“When we started to sing, the woman sat up in her chair and started waving her hands as if she was conducting the choir,” Guthe recalls. “After the concert, our director approached her and asked if she had a background in music, and she shook her head no. But a nurse told us that she’d actually been the principal violinist for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for fifty years. She’d lost all her memories of that career, but at some level she was still able to connect to what we were singing. Seeing firsthand the incredible power of music to reach people in need made me decide to change my career plans. When I came home, I started researching graduate programs in music therapy.”

Guthe was already familiar with the field because of the example of her mother, who had been a music therapist for a decade in a school for intellectually challenged children. But for years she thought her own her own career in music would follow a different path.

“I grew up immersed in music,” she says. “I sang in choirs, had voice lessons, and performed in musical theater, and I ended up majoring in music theory and composition at Maryville College in Tennessee. Then I went to graduate school in choral conducting because I thought I would enjoy teaching. But that concert in the nursing home changed my mind about what I wanted to do with my life.”

In 2013, Guthe came to the UI, which has both undergraduate and graduate music therapy programs that teach students how to use music to address people’s emotional, cognitive, social, communication and physical needs. The programs have a close association with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the largest university-based teaching hospital in the U.S., as well as other health and educational facilities in the area.

After completing her coursework for a master’s degree in music therapy, Guthe is now doing a six-month internship at the UI Hospital. Once she passes her board certification, she expects to have completed her MA by the end of the summer.

“I’ve gotten a wonderful education at the UI,” Guthe says. “I’ve appreciated how supportive and helpful everyone has been and I’ve benefitted from many musical experiences at the school, including singing in Kantorei. I also volunteered in the hospital playing music in the cancer center, which reinforced for me my decision to enter the field.”

After completing her degree, Guthe hopes to find a position in a health care setting. “I like how each patient’s needs are different and that you can do a wide variety of things during the course of a day,” she says. “I also enjoy being part of an interdisciplinary team with other professionals.”

Mary Adamek, area head for the Music Therapy Program, has been one of Guthe’s professors as well as her clinical supervisor. “Emily is an exceptional musician with strong interpersonal skills and a great capacity for empathy,” she says. “I was especially impressed by her graduate practicum work at a local care facility, where she did a project with older adults with dementia. After seeing how she interacted with patients and was able to improve the quality of their lives, its director is now interested in hiring a music therapist. That’s entirely because of the work she did there.”

Guthe says that even though she’s enjoyed performing in a wide variety of settings through the years, she always felt that something was missing, a component that she’s found in music therapy.

“For a time I thought that teaching would fill that gap, but now I realize that music therapy is what I was being led to,” she says. “It’s the perfect choice for someone of my interests and background.”