Ilan Morgenstern, Bass Trombone
On Musician Health Practitioners, and What’s Missing
Updated: May 5, 2021
I started working on this chart a couple of months ago with the guidance of my buddy Kayleigh Miller of the Musicians Health Collective blog. The goal was to create an objective, simple, and straight-forward resource for anybody who might need help in this important department. A resource that I would have found helpful at different points in my career as a student and performer.
I think I came very close to that.
Here’s the problem: it can be a challenge to evaluate the credentials of the person you are turning to for help. It is as asymmetrical a relationship as one gets: one person has an issue that might be life-changing and career-altering, and so a lot of money, time, and even issues of personal identity are on the line. The other person is in a position to possibly help in resolving that issue. There is nothing wrong with making money, and we must pay for these services if we expect them to be there for us, but there is also a profit motive that might play into this dynamic as well.
Unlike sports medicine which is a more mature and better funded and researched field, for musicians the support system doesn’t really exist in the same way. Instead what we find is a labyrinth of well-meaning recommendations, anecdotal experiences, abbreviated titles, and credentials that may or may not relate to our field.
And say you actually have great access to healthcare. Not every qualified medical professional is patient enough or empathetic enough, able to set aside time for an in-depth discussion within the confined of their practice, or even an expert in our extremely specific fields. But we must also acknowledge that not every musician has access to even basic healthcare in our freelance-dominant field, and besides, not every issue necessarily requires medical attention. So while no serious person can compare the training one gets as a body-movement instructor to that of a medical professional, it can be hard to determine which will be most helpful or useful to you.
In addition to the above, since much of our field relies on word-of-mouth reputation, it can be intimidating to approach a colleague or teacher, for fear of advertising that one might be less reliable and therefore employable. This is what I was attempting to address with this chart.
What I think is missing from my chart are two sides of the same coin. A category for what I would call “advocate”, which in my mind is a person with genuine interest in the subject, time spent thinking about it and researching it independently, and constantly and consistently furthering their knowledge on behalf of the people in their care. A sort of modern-day Feldenkrais if you will. The other side of that same coin is that there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive and objective way to evaluate the complete person you might be trying to work with: a way of understanding their background and experiences, willingness and ability to listen, formal and informal continued training, and yes, their certifications and what went into them.
So here you have it: a chart that includes an imperfect approach to try and understand the background of the person you might consider talking to about your potential issue.
If you are in need of help and I were to give advice, and I very much hesitate doing so with so many variables, I would advise you to reach out to multiple professionals for a preliminary conversation. Any practitioner worth your time will be glad to make time for you! Openly ask them about their background and credentials, openly ask them what privacy they are required to provide you with, openly ask them if they have worked with such potential issues in the past, and what their general approach to helping you will be. Finally, ask them if they feel comfortable helping you, and under what conditions will they decide to refer you elsewhere, and where that might be. And trust your gut.
With hopes you never need this information!