A Not-New Reminder.

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. expression. 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.



Question Yourself.


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.

A Room is More Than Space

I don’t know if I am a believer of feng shui. I can see and feel if a room is more inviting, or makes me feel exiled or uncomfortable. Maybe I am a partial believer of feng shui. Maybe my approach to a room is based on a sensitivity to the room’s energy achieved by my training as a therapist. In all treatment, the way a room is set up is important. You want to be efficient in the way you facilitate treatment, you don’t want your client to feel any anxiety because the room has too much or too little space, you want to have room to facilitate therapeutic interventions, room set up is important to treatment. I feel that with music therapy, having an appropriately organized space for intervention facilitation is key. If you have too much space and you’re working with a child with attention deficits, redirection of unfocused behavior can inhibit maximizing the time you have in the session. If you have too little space and you’re facilitating a movement-through-music group where a considerable amount of space is needed, you’re clients may become frustrated. I remember room set up being a part of my grade while in my clinical practicum during undergrad. 

When you sit in a room, do you focus on all the space around you as well as your center of focus, be it people or work? Try this: Right now as you read these words, bring your awareness to the screen. Become aware of where your hands are placed…the contact points they have with the desk/mouse/iPad/phone/etc…how are you holding your body? What are you feeling right now? What else is in the room? What is occupying the space above you? Notice the space around you and the weight it carries. Take a few moments and notice how it feels to be surrounded with space that you may not have pay attention to before. 

Space is important. I had a client in the past who survived a suicide attempt. She had a primary diagnosis of schizophrenia, paranoid type. She was involved in prostitution. She was over that part of her life and was in love with a man who she thought didn’t love her because of her suicidal ideation. The first time I met her she was uninvolved, withdrawn, and declined to come to music therapy groups. She agreed to individual sessions with me which immediately followed the group session.

From the chart review, I gathered that she needed comfort, care, and to be held. I felt she needed to be held and supported by the music so she could fully express herself and her sadness. I set the instruments up in a semi circle and put her chair in the middle of the instruments in the middle of the room. I sat across from her. I walked her to her chair and she was amazed by the instruments. She opened up almost immediately about her experience. She said she felt comfortable in the room and that made it easier for her to share her thoughts with me…thoughts she said she couldn’t comfortably share with her psychiatrist. When she shared music with me, I supported her music and did not impose any ideas, intially. Over time, she was able to express herself  with music easier than before, and she allowed space in her music for mine. We were able to advance in our improvisatory music by adding roles to the music we shared. From this, she began sharing more about her personal life.

Over her treatment, she shared that her initial depression in early adulthood was related to the physical abuse she experienced as a child. This was a detail she shared with no one else and was not in any of her charts. I set the room up the same way every session. I created this metaphysical cradle for her out of these instruments. I supported her voice with music. She felt safe. She trusted me. I feel that the room set up was one of the major keys to the success of her treatment. The instruments created an order for her, a structure that she didn’t have upon entering treatment. She mostly played the djembe in our time together. She was grounding herself. The music she played reflected her need for compassion. She felt that compassion and positive energy and support initially from the instruments, the metaphysical cradle they created for her…a cradle within she could explore these feelings from the past. 

I shared this story with you as a reminder of how important everything is in a therapeutic environment. Because of this experience I shared with this client, I always take at least 2-3 minutes to myself in a therapy room after I set it up to walk around and just notice everything around me. I put myself in the client’s perspective, I play music on the instruments in the room, I sing, I take a few deep breaths…all just to be sure that everything is right. I listen to the sound in the room when I am not talking to make sure there are no distractions. You might try a few of these suggestions when you walk into a room to concentrate on a matter of importance, be it therapeutic work or even just to complete paperwork.