Wonder Woman of the Month: Kristin Mathes M.A., MT-BC

This month I had the privilege of interviewing my best friend, Kristin. She’s someone I’ve admired for a long time (we met my junior year of high school and instantly clicked). I’m so glad she agreed to do this post, because, as you’ll read, she’s one busy woman.

Keep reading for her story!

Tell readers a little about yourself and what you do.

I am 28 years old (is that right?), married, and have one sweet kiddo (13 months). I graduated in 2012 from the University of Arkansas with my Bachelor of Arts in Music and then from Texas Woman’s University in 2016 with my Master of Arts in Music with an emphasis in Music Therapy. I became a Board-Certified Music Therapist after passing the board certification exam in June 2015. I am a music therapist for Frisco ISD. I also have four very spoiled furbabies!

What drove you to music therapy? Was there ever an “a-ha!” moment where you felt like it was what you were meant to do?

I had heard about music therapy in high school and was immediately interested in it, but didn’t know much about it at all. After starting college, I realized that while I loved my music classes (as expected) I also really loved my psychology classes. This made me want to see if there was a way to combine these two passions. One of the major life moments that made me certain I wanted to look into music therapy was when my grandpa Ray was really sick. He was feeling exhausted and obviously in pain but he asked me to play my oboe for him. While I was playing, he stood up and walked over to me and watched me play for a while (which at that point in time we were all surprised that he had the energy to do that!). I just felt it in my heart that day. I could feel what music did for my grandpa in that moment, and while that was not music therapy, it made me want to learn about how music could be used to help people even more with the proper training, education, and certification.

Besides therapy, what makes music so important to you/what benefits does it offer to people?

Music is SO versatile. It can be an escape, but it can also bring you home. It can provide you with words when you cannot find them yourself, or it can fill the silence when words are not necessary. It can help you process. It can help you move forward. It can bring you back to a specific time or memory. It can be an extremely useful learning tool (think about how you learned the ABCs or the Day of the Week—most people learned them using simple melodies!). It can be a safe and fun way for self-expression. The list goes on and on!

You currently work with children and youth, but do you ever see yourself working professionally with adults? How do you think adults would benefit from music therapy? What other populations do you think could benefit from MT?

Absolutely! I have no idea where I will be working or who I will be working with down the line but I am open to anything! School settings are just one place that music therapists work. Music therapists also work in hospitals, in hospice settings, in shelters, in nursing homes or memory care facilities, in private practices, in rehabilitation centers, and so many other places! Music therapy interventions can promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, aid in the expression of feelings, enhance memory, improve communication, and promote physical rehabilitation. The field is constantly growing!

What are your long-term goals with music therapy?

My long-term goals are constantly changing, but I can share some thoughts I’ve had about things that I may like to do one day! I think it would be awesome to start a private practice with a focus on expectant mothers, childbirth, and postpartum mothers. After going through this myself, I learned quickly that there is not enough support out there for new moms. Postpartum depression and anxiety are very real and something that many new moms struggle with. Anxiety and complications during pregnancy, caring for a newborn, crazy hormones, and physical and mental exhaustion can all take a toll on a new mom and the relationships in her life. I believe that having a music therapy practice that focuses on these moms would be so beneficial!

Based on our conversations in the past, there seem to be quite a few misconceptions about music therapy. Will you explain what music therapy is not?

Really great question! I think because music is such a powerful tool and (almost) everyone enjoys listening to music, there can definitely be some misconceptions out there. In our field, we often hear people talk about doing their own music therapy by listening to music while relaxing, or that they have done music therapy by performing at a nursing home or hospital. Or we may hear, “My brother John plays the guitar and I keep telling him to apply for a music therapy job because of it!”. These examples, while noteworthy, are not considered music therapy because the individuals do not have degrees or certifications in music therapy. The best way to explain this is found on the American Music Therapy Association website (https://www.musictherapy.org/) which states, “The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) supports music for all and applauds the efforts of individuals who share their music-making and time; we say the more music the better! But clinical music therapy is the only professional, research-based discipline that actively applies supportive science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals. Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy, including 1200 hours of clinical training. Music therapists must hold the MT-BC credential, issued through the Certification Board for Music Therapists, which protects the public by ensuring competent practice and requiring continuing education.”

You also just became a mom a little over a year ago; has that changed how you work as a music therapist regarding your goals with the children, etc?

I think the biggest difference actually comes into play during ARD meetings with students’ parents. I empathize with the parents in the room more now because I constantly ask myself, “what if this was your child? You’d be fighting for everything for him as well!”.

What are some of the biggest things you’ve learned since becoming a mom?

It’s okay to feel like you don’t have it together most of the time. Your child loves you no matter how much of a hot mess you look (and feel) like. You can function on way less sleep than you ever thought possible. Being responsible for a tiny human is very nerve-wracking. Nothing is better than getting snuggles from your child. Tiny human laughs are contagious. Hearing “mama” for the 100th time gives you just as many butterflies as the 1st time. You CAN do this.

What advice do you have for moms who want or have to work?

Be patient with yourself. The transition to working AND being a mom is SO difficult. It was absolutely more difficult than I was prepared for. Lean on your support team, whoever that may be. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to not be okay. Spend LOTS of time researching childcare so that you can make the best decision possible for your family (and don’t be afraid to come prepared with tons of questions if you meet with a nanny or a daycare). Trust your mama instinct (it is SO real). Remember that it will get easier and you will slowly start to feel like yourself at work again. People will judge you if you stay home, people will judge you if you go to work. Do what is best for your family and don’t worry about what anyone else will say.

What are some things you wish you’d known when you first had your baby?

Honestly, I wish I knew just how crazy I was going to feel for a while. I wish people talked more openly about how hard it is at the beginning and how normal it is to develop anxiety or depression (or for your anxiety to get worse if you already suffered from it previously). It’s really easy to feel isolated and alone because so many people expect you to be happy and peppy 24/7. This is why I’m not afraid to talk about the struggles along with the beautiful moments. There is nothing to be ashamed of!

I also wish I knew how much having a child shows you who your true friends are. Some people will essentially disappear because they don’t like change. But your true friends will love your child with all of their heart because they are an extension of you. And that is an amazing feeling!

I just want to touch on this briefly, because I think it’s important; you work full-time at a pretty high-stress job, you’re a mom to a 13-month-old, and you still play for the Plano Community Band. Not to mention your involvement with your church, your family, and maintaining a social life all while suffering from anxiety, sometimes pretty severely. I think it’s important to mention it because, to an outsider seeing all the things you do and accomplish with a gorgeous smile on your face, it seems like you have it all together and life is easy. How do you cope with your anxiety on a daily basis? And what would you tell someone also suffering, who wants to still manage life?

It’s so important to not keep things bottled inside. Have people you can rely on that you know will love you and accept you even when your anxieties are making you feel ridiculous (because anyone with anxiety knows that sometimes what you are worrying about truly will sound crazy to most people). It’s also important to have the things you can do that help you relax or “fill your cup”. For me, that’s spending time with Ronnie and Greyson, watching movies or one of my comforting tv shows, walking around Target with my best friend (haha!), playing music for fun (not in preparation for work but just for me), or just getting on the couch and taking a nap. But it’s also SO important to recognize when you need professional help. I am obviously a huge advocate for mental health and I know personally that seeing a counselor or a therapist can be a game changer. There is nothing wrong with seeking help! You have to make your mental health a priority.

Finally, you’ve always made it a point to build and maintain strong female friendships (we’ve been best friends for over 10 years); why are those bonds so important to you and why, in your opinion, is it so important to build each other up and support other women?

I truly believe the saying that when women support other women, magic happens! Women are strong and beautiful and capable of SO much. If you surround yourself with women who are in constant competition you will always leave feeling so worn down. Surrounding yourself with women who love and support you no matter what (and you do the same for them) makes life a lot more fun! I don’t have any sisters by blood, but I’m lucky enough to have a few that I’ve picked up along the way! ❤

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