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NewsMay 18, 2019

Trailblazing student transforms her passion into a profession

Music therapist Tamara Adams ’19 plans to take her training back to her Caribbean homeland

Tamara Adams smiles for the camera in her Commencement regalia

Tamara Adams will be a pioneer in the music therapy field when she returns to her home island of Barbados, so it’s natural she would receive her training from our pioneering Expressive Therapies program.

This year, Adams, a 39-year-old international student, is receiving her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Music Therapy specialization – a journey she began in 2013. She says the Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences' offerings of Therapeutic Applications of Drumming, as well as Voice and Music Therapy “seemed most relevant to a Caribbean population.”

“Lesley University was touted to be a pioneer in distance learning and education of young women, and Cambridge was recommended as a location that suited my personality as an individual coming from a small island,” Adams says.

Adams, whose mother was from Trinidad and father was from Barbados, started playing piano when she was in elementary school. When she was 14, her mother enrolled her in formal voice training, a month before she died. Eventually, Adams earned her bachelor’s in sociology from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados, and a bachelor’s in occupational therapy from York St. John University College in the United Kingdom.

“Back in 2002, when I was completing my first degree, I carried out a search of opportunities for further study and that was when I first came across music therapy as a profession,” Adams says.  “The more I found out about it, the more it seemed to be a perfect fit for both my love of music and my deep desire to help people.”

She began volunteering at the Children’s Development Centre in Barbados, where she was advised to pursue occupational therapy, explaining OT was better known at the time than music therapy. Nevertheless, she says, “Throughout my professional training in OT, I maintained my interest in music therapy and later on, after completing a short course at Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre in London, I began to take steps to apply to Lesley University.”

But the road to achieving her goal was obstructed. She got into Lesley’s graduate program, but, “Unfortunately at the same time I received my acceptance letter, my father passed away suddenly and I had to defer,” she says.

In 2013, when Lesley’s low-residency program was first offered, she says, “It seemed serendipitous that I was able to pursue music therapy while remaining in my home country.”

She adds, “Thanks to NER-AMTAS (New England Region-American Music Therapy Association Students), in 2015, I was able to attend a service trip to Grand Cayman and actually see music therapy in practice firsthand. In 2016, I was awarded a Barbados National Development Scholarship, which allowed me to pursue my degree on campus full-time.”

“I have had to persevere as a music therapy student and intern for such a very long time, and have had to overcome many obstacles in my life that seemed insurmountable. The fact that I was able to journey with amazing, inspiring classmates makes me feel confident that I can make a difference in this profession.”

Tamara Adams ’19, Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Music Therapy specialization

The scholarship and support are good news for her, but also for her homeland, to which she plans to return some time after commencement as a trained music therapist, one of (if not the) first.

“There are persons in Barbados who offer ‘music therapy’ services, and these are persons who bring with them decades in the field of music and human services, but who are not specifically trained or certified as music therapists,” Adams says.

In the short-term, she hopes to take advantage of Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) and obtain work experience before returning to Barbados, where she says she expects to be working in relative isolation.

“Trinidad is the closest Caribbean island to Barbados with practicing music therapists,” Adams says.

At present, Adams is interning in the Boston Public School System, working with children with special needs.

“It has been a unique perspective as my first US-based internship, both in terms of the resources available compared to Barbados, and the opportunity to have an on-site music therapy/LMHC (licensed mental health counselor) supervisor, as well as work with several other expressive therapists on staff,” Adams says. In contrast, in her first internship in Barbados, she was supervised by the school principal and worked with a music educator on staff. However, she also appreciated that opportunity to work with young people at Barbados’s juvenile detention facility.

Now, she’s ready to tackle the next challenge.

“My entire course of study at Lesley University has prepared me for a career in the field," Adams says.

“I have had to persevere as a music therapy student and intern for such a very long time, and have had to overcome many obstacles in my life that seemed insurmountable,” Adams says. “The fact that I was able to journey with amazing, inspiring classmates, since 2013 up until the present, makes me feel confident that I can make a difference in this profession.”