Tuesday, November 24, 2015

How to be together

We sat together yesterday, our group of seven, on a Monday afternoon. And the curtains in the room were open to the afternoon sun, closed as the sun blinded us, and then open again to watch the beautiful dark frames of leafless trees against the pink and yellow and blue sky as the sun began to set. And, with the early evening news as a background, we noticed, for ourselves and with each other, our music was made of...

...sound and silence,
terror and safety,
change and consistency,
feeling frozen and being in motion,
comfort and discomfort,
certainty and uncertainty,
sleeping and awake,
light and dark,
presence and absence,
judgment and acceptance,
loud and quiet,
intensity and gentleness,
curiosity and detachment,
containment and freedom...

And then, this morning, I read and listened to this gorgeous conversation between Krista Tippett and Ann Hamilton. When Krista asked her what questions we should be asking, without hesitation, Ann responded:
"...how to be together. I mean, isn’t that — that seems like the biggest question. How to be together." (Ann Hamilton
Yes! And yes again!

There are so many who believe music therapy sessions with people who don't use speech as their first language are about "playing for your clients." In fact, it is about

 and wondering 

"...when you’re making something, you don’t know what it is for a really long time. So, you have to kind of cultivate the space around you, where you can trust the thing that you can’t name. And if you feel a little bit insecure, or somebody questions you, or you need to know what it is, then what happens is you give that thing that you’re trying to listen to away. And so, how do you kind of cultivate a space that allows you to dwell in that not knowing, really? That is actually really smart, and can become really articulate? But, you know, like the thread has to come out, and it comes out at its own pace." (Ann Hamilton)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why it was hard for me to participate in this year's social media advocacy month

One of the things that doesn't get talked about enough when you're on your way to becoming a music therapist is how deflating it can be to have to define, to defend, to prove your work almost every single day for the rest of your music therapy life.

I need to admit to you (because I think it's important to say it out loud, because I truly believe that looking at the challenges means finding a way to get through them or at least come to terms with them): I am weary - bone weary - of advocating for music therapy right now. Will I still do it? Yes, probably I will. Do I still believe in what I do? Absolutely! Do I think I make a difference in my clients' lives? God, I hope so! I know they make a difference in mine. Am I still learning about music therapy? Always. 

But am I sick to death of explaining and re-explaining, and re-re-explaining what I do to people who already "know" what I do? Who incessantly belittle and demean my work (and, by extension, my clients' efforts)? Who still, after 27 years of this, see me as "the entertainment," treating me like a radio that nobody's really listening to anyway? Damn skippy! 

Today's comment: "No offense or anything, Roia, but I think having gross motor and music out at the pool is more beneficial for the guys than just listening to music with you..." (hmm, now how could that possibly be offensive to me?). This came from a co-worker who arrives in the middle of our Community Music Group, starts yelling out names (with a quick "oh, sorry, Roia"), bustling people into coats, and taking out the majority of the group to go to another activity. Nice.

I've had bosses who've said (and I'm quoting here), "Roia, I honestly don't see how what you do is any different from someone putting a CD in a CD player," interrupting my invitation to come and observe a session with "I'm afraid we're just going to have to agree to disagree, because we have different views on this." I guess getting that Master's degree was an insane waste of time, money, and effort. Oh, and probably the twenty years of paying for clinical supervision (and a whole lot of other trainings outside of music therapy), learning everything I could about disabilities and psychotherapy and figuring out ways to make sense of all of this so I can offer my clients a form of music therapy that hardly anybody else really does...that was probably a bit of overkill.

It's hard when many of your professional colleagues think that all you're doing is "playing nice music for people." It's hard to listen to support staff tell you they don't like the music you're playing and that you're not doing music therapy "right."

The bottom line here is this: if you're going to be a music therapist (and I really want you to be), it's important to love what you do and believe in what you're providing to your clients with every fiber in your body. It's important to make music, to get clinical supervision, to get your own therapy, to have an amazing support system of people who love, respect and believe in you and in the work that you do. Because you will run into these people. And you're good and likely to feel squashed sometimes.

Being a music therapist is hard work, especially when you're trying to find a way to musically sit with people who are struggling, whose lives aren't going the way they wish they would, who are in pain, who are frightened, who throw instruments at you, who scratch your face, who are disorganized, who feel powerless, who are grieving, who are dying....All of this is hard to do. But we do it, because we know - deep in our souls we know - that the experience of being together in music means something, the musical and human relationships we painstakingly develop with people who've had chronic trauma, who've been discriminated against in every way imaginable (and in many ways we don't even have a clue about) means something.

So what the heck am I saying anyway? I guess what I'm trying to say is I've advocated until I'm blue in the face. Oh, I'll advocate when someone really cares to listen. Until then, I'm keeping my focus on helping the people whose understanding of music therapy is most important to me, and that's my clients.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Asking for help (the hard way)

Some days I come home from work feeling as if my clients all hate me.

Now don't all jump in with the "oh, come on, they don't hate you! Why do you insist on seeing yourself that way? They appreciate you, why would you say such a thing?!" comments. 

Because that would be missing the point.

The things is: it was hard being a music therapist today. And, yes, I did (and always do) say to myself, "oh, come on, they probably don't hate you. Well, maybe they do, but probably it's not really about you." 

Here's what I'm thinking (hoping) (thinking and sooort of hoping, because, really, it's not a great thing to hope): I'm thinking my clients absorb so. Much. Hate. Every. Single. Day. And here I come in, Ms. Gosh-I'm-so-glad-to-be-here-guys-let's-listen-to-each-other-and-see-what-we-can-hear-in-each-other's-music. And there's crying and yelling and toileting accidents and more yelling and more crying and running around and trying to run out the door and handing me my guitar case and climbing on things and hitting each other and pulling and pushing and more toileting accidents.

And we sing, and we play about it, and we stop to get people cleaned up. Okay, well, usually I'm the one playing about it and singing about it, because my clients don't really use speech, and they are often too busy being overwhelmed. And I put it out there, "I know things have been really difficult for you, and it's a lot to cope with all the time." 

And I feel inadequate. I feel like one of those teeny little bandaids that keep falling off. My words and my music hardly cover any one of my clients' deep wounds. And I try to remind myself, "this is what chronic trauma and chronic grief look like. What can I offer in the music, in my words, in my presence? Will it mean anything?" 

Thanks to juliaf for the image!
Then I start in with the whole internal drama of "What if I'm just making assumptions? What if they just think I'm being a pain in the ass? And wrong? What if they wish I wouldn't come because I just remind them of what sucks in their lives and then I'm standing there singing and talking about it and happy to see them, for God's sake?"

So there I was driving myself home (and crazy) today, feeling kind of crappy. And I reminded myself of how much hatred my clients have internalized. How there's nowhere for it to...go! I mean, it just...sits there and festers in them. And my acknowledging it and hearing it is probably new and unexpected. And uncomfortable. 

Listening to the hatred many autistic people (especially those who live in congregate care) have been asked to hold over and over again is plain intense. And I leave sessions feeling as if my clients hate me.

Actually, though, after the initial "oh, woe is me" phase, I do manage to realize, "um, this is countertransference." And I start to wonder if what's really happening is that my clients are asking me to help them - to help them cope with the hatred they're having a hard time metabolizing. In their own way, I think they're asking me to hold on to the hate, to figure out what to do with it, say it out loud for them, and help them find a way to make sense of it. 

And the only way they can ask for that help is to get me to a point where I feel as if they hate me. And I have to be able to experience that awfulness. That terrible "nothing I do has any effect on you, I feel as if I have no power over my life" feeling.

Because until I've fully gone through the pain and rejection with them, they don't know that I've heard them. And until I go through it I don't know how they're feeling.

Next week, I will go back to them. I will sing about it, and I will say it out loud and give it a voice in the music. And hopefully the relationship will grow just a little deeper. Because I allowed myself to feel as if they hate me.

This is one of the songs that came up in the session.