Donald E. Michel

Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, United States 
"Donald Michel"

The Menninger School of Psychiatry was established in 1946 at the Topeka Veterans Medical Center, a short distance from the University of Kansas where Dr. Michel completed his music therapy studies under the guidance of E. Thayer Gaston. Dr. Michel stated, "I wanted to be a music therapy researcher, to take an afternoon off and go there." He indicated that during this time period there were "commonalities regarding applications of music" in therapeutic environments, yet, greater specific information was needed regarding applications of music therapy for individual cases. Dr. Michel was eventually able to take time off to pursue this direction, evolving into a period of approximately seven years as music therapist at the Topeka Veterans medical Center. Among his accomplishments at the Topeka Veterans Medical Center, Dr. Michel reported that he established the first affiliated internship program with the University of Kansas in 1948. Wayne Ruppenthal and Bill Unkefer were among his first interns, who all became close friends throughout their lifetime.

When asked regarding the degree to which other staff were open to an interdisciplinary approach, Dr. Michel stated, "I didn't realize how lucky I was to be in that hospital with medical doctors and psychiatrists; everything was patient based; everybody had the opportunity to interact with the patient's psychiatrist. Other programming included art, physical therapy, occupational therapy, leatherwork and shoe repair. We naturally had the same patients and asked (one another), what did you do? They were good friends, good people to work with." Dr. Michel did speak of difficulties through the first few years regarding the degree to which music therapy was recognized as a specific discipline, including qualifications to be a music therapist. "I was hired as a recreation therapist." As he attempted to distinguish music therapy, he encountered such difficulties as in the hiring of an "organist who called himself a music therapist," but not qualified according to education and training standards established by the National Association for Music Therapy, Inc.

In contrast to a generalist-approach to applications of music at the Topeka Veterans Medical Center, Dr. Michel recognized the importance of specific applications of music therapy enhanced through continuing education, as well as the need to build upon the type of education and training received at the University of Kansas. With funding available for training, he enrolled in courses associated with neurology, anatomy and physiology. Now equipped with new knowledge and principles, as well as having day-to-day access to " medical doctors, psychiatric residents, (and even) famous psychiatrists," Dr. Michel described his being able to successfully converse with the medical community. "The principles I learned in class came back to me many times. They recognized that I got to a level that I could understand it (and) we could talk about it." In describing his formal education and training, Dr. Michel indicated that "goals and objectives are what my education was all about." His specificity of understanding at the biological level, paired with a goal oriented approach, provided the necessary foundation for his ability to recognize ways in which music can behaviorally complement the psychoanalytical approach which was the predominant method of treatment for patients at the Topeka Veterans Medical Center.

Dr. Michel reported that the psychiatrists on staff came to rely on such services as music therapy as the context for evidence of behavioral improvement. Dr. Michel went as far as to say, "You would have to be undergoing psychoanalysis. We got tired of hearing people talk about themselves and became more interested in what they were doing. They had some behavioral things they could look at (through such services as music therapy)." In recreation therapy, including music therapy, Dr. Michel indicated that a patient's goal was determined by the psychiatrist through a prescription. For example, Dr. Michel was directed to "see if you can control (the patient's) anger," or, "describe (the patient's) mood" in music activities to compare with what was reported in psychoanalysis. But to not cross any professional boundaries, Dr. Michel reported being cautioned, "don't try to do any analysis. Tell (the patient) to talk to his psychiatrist." Dr. Michel did indicate, however (with a whispered voice), that "this was difficult." In support of his efforts, he described one patient with psychosis who stated that music therapy is "driving me sane!" Regardless of such boundary issues, Dr. Michel did indicate that what was most rewarding was his participation on the treatment team. The psychiatrists appeared truly interested in learning what was happening in music therapy sessions. Dr. Michel stated, "(for the music therapy profession) that was progress and exciting."

Dr. Michel's engagement with a clinical practice continued, even as a music therapy educator. While at the Topeka Veteran's Administration Medical Center he was introduced to biofeedback. "That is where I got interested in this; (the Menninger Clinic) was advanced in psychoanalysis, but (biofeedback) offered concrete results- one more thing to document." During the 1980's, through a friendship with a psychologist, he was reintroduced to biofeedback. While for most of his prior clinical experiences he "generally worked with others in groups," he saw biofeedback as an opportunity "to work with someone individually." As he progressed in the training, he recognized, "I knew I had a lot to learn." Dr. Michel later set up a private office separate from his teaching responsibilities at Texas Woman's University. In response to a question regarding future directions for music therapy, Dr. Michel clearly saw this as a kind of "private practice" for persons having day-to-day difficulties in response to life-circumstances. He shared one example in which he provided tapes of relaxing music for a client to use in between biofeedback sessions. In contrast to expressions of rage in response to life stressors (including "catching hell at home"), Dr Michel reported that the client "learned to control his own behavior" and reported "this is really helping me."

Dr. Michel was uniquely qualified to lead the National Association for Music Therapy in multiple ways, including service as the first two-term President beginning in 1960. Before entering music therapy studies at the University of Kansas he received a bachelor of administration degree from the University of Kansas and was a decorated naval officer during World War II, seeing action in Okinawa. When asked to reflect on his experiences as leader of NAMT, particularly during its formative stages, Dr. Michel's reoccurring theme was one of collaboration and close friendships. Regarding this time period, Dr. Michel stated, "(We) were still a small group; everyone had time to say something; good people- helpful; close friendships; a good time. We had plenty of ideas to move ahead and keep going with." "It was great to be among leaders, I was learning all of the time. I had the best support of the Executive Committee."
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Cross-listing: Music Tree

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Michel DE. (1974) Music therapy procedures in speech and hearing problems Anali Klinicke Bolnice "Dr. M. Stojanovic". 13: 300-305
Michel DE. (1971) Music therapy: An idea whose time has arrived around the world Journal of Music Therapy. 8: 90-95
Michel DE, Madsen CK. (1969) Examples Of Research in Music Therapy as a Function of Undergraduate Education Journal of Music Therapy. 6: 22-25
Michel DE. (1965) Professional profile: The NAMT member and his clinical practices in music therapy Journal of Music Therapy. 2: 124-129
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