Writing can feel limiting for me.
I often compare my ideas for writing to other people’s. Then I toss my idea because they’ve already done it. You see, my struggle with writing is that of comparison to others. My observing mind overpowers my analytical mind. “I see that someone else has written about that subject in their blog so I should write about something else.” “This melody sounds like that song’s melody, I better change it.” Expression.
Why is that we as people are so critical of our own work and more accepting of someone else’s? Why is it that I scrap the melody of a song I’ve written because it is too similar to another song I’ve heard? Why do I scratch out a blog idea because someone else has already written about it? Why? Well…the same reason why our clients sometimes refuse to express their ideas in their own way. It is a vulnerable place. Expression makes us vulnerable. Expression is a window through the persona to the Self. When you express yourself, you express your Self. Why wouldn’t you feel indifferent about expressing yourself to a therapist whom you have just met? I am reminded, in my own struggle for creative expression, of how hard it must be for a non-musician receiving music therapy to open up in treatment. It’s hard and we need reminders in times of frustration. Maybe you’ve tried everything you know to do and a client still doesn’t reciprocate. Maybe a client is abrasive when cued verbally to engage. Maybe its time to take a step back and remember that for us music therapists and musicians, creative expression is second-nature (sometimes first!). For clients, it may be a difficult path with many bends and forks. Be patient and let the music fill the space and guide that person to trust. Trust the process.
When I was attending Appalachian State, I participated in Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) sessions (at the suggestion of an awesome faculty member) with a local music therapy graduate student. This was the first time I went to another therapist for a therapeutic need. My interests in mind-expansion and personal thought exploration were at a peak during this time of my life. Whenever I could sneak it in between subjects of my busy reading schedule for class, I would read Huxley, Jung, and Robert A. Johnson. The writings of these authors really opened me up to a richer life experience. I feel like a filter had been lifted and that I could see e world in a different way through observing in a different way and through self-assessment, or mindfulness.
My GIM sessions were based upon these notions of thought exploration, existentialism, and mind-expansion. I was experiencing what I felt to be a little bit of a meltdown. Between the tension of school, interpersonal tension, and my dwindling social life, to say I was stressed is an understatement. I not only needed to talk to a third-and-unrelated party, I needed to find a balance. My initial intention was to explore my mind in an altered state to gain a deeper understanding of who I was…to find myself through music at a level of consciousness I had never explored. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of my perception of the world around me. I wanted to find new perspectives. I wanted to find this deeper meaning without having to tell myself to do so. I accepted this responsibility as one that I did not have to try to accomplish. I put my trust in the music and the therapeutic process.
After the first session, I really was never the same. I don’t know if I’m a huge believer in catharsis, but what I experienced had to be close to it. This session was pivotal epiphany. The imagery was that of me on a dirt path. I tried to take a step to move forward but could not. This took approximately 35 minutes of the allotted 45-minute intervention. I was stuck. The last 10 minutes were all very random. I feel like the images that followed were meaningless, apart from learning how to navigate and explore this new world. The verbal processing that followed was the pivotal moment through which I feel I gained not only a deeper understanding of myself, but of the therapeutic process. I realized that a change was coming and that it was me that needed to initiate the change. I was in control but for some reason I neglected the reigns. I was too dependent on everything around me and felt as though things would just happen because I felt that’s what everyone else was doing. Everyone else made it all look so easy and i was having a difficult time with things. School would shape me into the therapist I was supposed to be. I finally figured out that the therapist I was going to be wasn’t reliant on school or anyone else but myself. I am my own therapist. I practice clinically within professional guidelines, but the interventions I plan and implement are of my own discretion. My clinical approach and implementation techniques are mine as a therapist and molded by what I learned in school and through my clinical work everyday.
This is something I have to remind myself. I am my own therapist. Sometimes I get caught up in the thought, “Would they do this?”, ” I wonder what she would do for this client”. Why is that? My clients progress toward their objectives, so my clinical approach and interventions are working. Why question myself as a therapist?
Because it’s healthy to do so.
I consider this questioning to be a type of ongoing personal assessment. It keeps my creativity flowing and it makes me a better therapist. So this thought exploration is ongoing, this personal assessment, this questioning. I keep a journal of these thoughts to see how my thought processes may change or effect my planning process. I find it helpful to reflect on these thought comparisons. Being the only music therapist in my facility was tough at first because of this. I had no one else to observe or co-treat with so of course I would feel like I needed to be implementing other interventions. After a while the connection was made…this thought comparison, these questions I was asking myself…they weren’t my Shadow Self peeking through to make me feel blue…these questions were there to help…and that’s what they continue to do.
I just recently was listening to an excellent podcast episode about the self. The podcast’s focus for this episode was on finding your true self, persona aside. The hosts discussed acknowledgement and how important it is to acknowledge who you are while you be who you are. There was an interview with a writer from New York. She discussed her struggles with writing. (So did Oliver Sacks in the same episode, and of course his segment was awesome!) This young woman was having severe writer’s block, as most writer’s do. She would barely make her deadlines, catch heavy criticism from her coworkers and supervisor, and felt that she was totally disconnected from her creative self. Until one day she began treating her creative self as a separate entity…as if creativity itself were alive and would find someone who was going to use it.
She began telling her creative self that she just needed some time and to please not find someone else to work through. I found all of this incredibly interesting. I started thinking back to memorable moments where I was at a wall and could not take a creative idea any further. Did I have conversations with my creativity? I did not. I think now I will. I can recall talking to myself about the work trying to brainstorm ideas, but never have I had a conversation with creativity. Never have I told creativity to wait just a little longer.
This writer, she continued talking about other artists who describe similar habits of talking to their creative side. Tom Waits is someone she talked about at length. It was very interesting to hear his perspective on songwriting. He is one of my favorite songwriters of all time.
So I present this idea to you. When you’re stuck, don’t blame yourself…but also don’t blame creativity. Invite the creativity to come back when it is ready to be presented to the world, whether its form take that of a song or a sculpture. Treat your creative side as though it were separate, because it just may be and you definitely want it to stick around.