A Gift to Your Colleagues

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CV, No. 12December, 2005

Leslie Cardell, LCSW

A Local 802 member called the Musicians’ Assistance Program recently to inquire about getting short-term counseling for a distressing personal problem. He wondered whether or not M.A.P. provided such a service, and if so, what would it cost? When I explained that, as with all of our services, there would be no charge, he said: “Well, maybe I should add on a donation for M.A.P. the next time I pay my dues.” Now there’s an idea! Perhaps you’ve seen that line on your dues statement and wondered where the money goes.

The Musicians’ Assistance Program was originally created in 1983 in response to members’ concerns about colleagues who were struggling with alcohol and drug problems. Over time it grew into a social service program able to respond to a wide range of members’ needs. As far as I know, 802 is the only AFM Local to provide a program like M.A.P. for its members.

Bad stuff happens to good people (and musicians) too.

Musicians often have less of a safety net in place than do people in other industries, and the job comes with many additional stressors that can make maintaining a healthy, stable life more difficult. It’s a rare musician who hasn’t at some point struggled with the financial problems that can be unavoidable when one’s income is so variable. Then, there are the relationship conflicts that can arise from unpredictable hours and time apart while on the road.

What about the stress of auditioning, and the pressure to keep up your chops so you can perform to a standard of “perfection?” I’ll let you in on a little secret. Although none of your peers will admit it, some measure of performance anxiety is part and parcel of being a professional musician.

Add in an environment where drugs and alcohol are readily available, and it’s not hard to understand how some musicians come to rely too heavily on a drink or a drug to help them cope. Then of course, there are the various and sundry problems that life throws at all of us along the way, no matter what our profession.

The Musicians’ Assistance Program provides a kind of safety net when the high-wire act of being a professional musician gets a little too precarious. The program is professionally staffed and administered by the Actors’ Fund, a nonprofit human service organization that has been helping people in the entertainment industry for almost 125 years. The funding for the program comes from donations made directly to M.A.P. or to Local 802’s Emergency Relief Fund. Here are some examples of the help those donations have made possible. (Names and details have been changed to protect members’ privacy.)

A young musician (we’ll call him Ben) was working hard to prepare for a series of high-profile auditions. Working a little too hard as a matter of fact — he ended up developing a repetitive strain injury. Ben didn’t have insurance to pay for physical therapy, and because he was unable to work, he got behind on the rent.

M.A.P. helped Ben get funding to pay for his back rent, and the physical therapy he needed. He was pretty frightened about how this injury might impact his career, and it was helpful to have someone to talk things over with. He gradually began to feel more optimistic, and after being referred to the Actors’ Work Program (an Actors’ Fund program), he was able to find some sideline work to tide him over until he was back up to performance speed.

A member living in New Jersey was worried about her teenage son, Frank. He’d always had problems in school, and recently seemed more and more withdrawn. A M.A.P. social worker met with Frank for an assessment. He hadn’t wanted to worry his mother, but was able to tell the social worker in more detail what had been troubling him. Frank was referred to a local therapist with a specialty in learning disabilities and the emotional problems of adolescents.

Marie has had a long career as a musician. She’d always worked pretty steadily, and enjoyed having a few drinks after a gig. Mostly it was just about socializing. Sometimes it was a way to celebrate when a difficult piece had gone especially well. At other times it was a way to blow off steam when she’d felt mistreated by a conductor or disappointed in her performance. Gradually, Marie began to realize alcohol had become an all-purpose solution. She tried cutting down, but that didn’t work. The M.A.P. office helped her find a treatment program that worked with her schedule, and she met regularly with a M.A.P. social worker for ongoing support.

As I’m sure you can imagine, there are many more stories. A donation to M.A.P. or the Emergency Relief Fund is a wonderful way to make a gift to your colleagues, and have an impact on how their stories turn out. Call me to learn about how to make a donation. My information is below.

Leslie Cardell is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and the coordinator of the Musicians’ Assistance Program’s services. M.A.P. office hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 to 5. Call (212) 397-4802 for an appointment.