Monday, December 18, 2023

"You are showing them that they exist"

Excerpt From the transcript of the On Being show in which Krista Tippett interviewed Michel Martin:
MS. MARTIN: What we are simply saying is, I see you. I mean, I know for example when — you know, when I was working for “Nightline,” and I went to Turkey after there was a terrible earthquake there, and like, you know, thousands of people were killed. And I was feeling really useless. Um, thinking, boy I wish I were a doctor. I wish I were a structural engineer. I wish I could do something more useful. But then people would come up to me and say, thank you for being here. And I would feel, like, wow, why are thanking me? And then I thought — and I called my — you know what we do at a time like this. You know, I called my husband, because [laughs] I really feel like so useless. What am I doing here? And he said, you are showing them that they exist. And I appreciated that, because I’ve held onto that. It’s like sometimes the best thing we can do for people is let them know that we see them.
MS. TIPPETT: Mm-hmm.
MS. MARTIN: And so sometimes, you know, other people’s bad news is, you know, their lifeline, and letting them be understood. In fact, this was the very first story I did when I was at The Post as a little baby reporter at The Washington Post, and I was sent out on the summer — it was one of those terrible stories that you hate to do because some little boy had fallen out the window of the projects.
MS. MARTIN: And I had to knock on the woman’s door to get a comment from her. And I kid you not, I walked around the block three times before I mustered the courage to knock on her door, because I knew I had to. And I felt like, you know, and I knocked on the door. And she — and I said, I’m so sorry, I heard about your son, I came to see if there was any — a comment that you had. And she said, where have you been? Because she felt that if someone from the media didn’t come, then this was invisible and it had no meaning. And she had things she wanted to say, like why weren’t there any safety screens on the windows, which there were supposed to be. So, I bring that up to say a lot of times, what sometimes what middle class people see as intrusion, other people with no power see as validating their existence.
This part of the conversation was so meaningful to me, particularly a day after sitting with my clients in their "I hate this place!" rage, fear, anxiety, uncertainty. Literally, from the first session to the last, I heard some variation on this experience of powerlessness. In the first cottage, one of the women was screaming about how much she "hates this place!" The person I actually went to pick up for her session was having a rough time of things, and I found myself feeling quite lost and powerless to be of much help to her. The person I worked with in the afternoon was clear in his wish that I would take him away, because he indicated a wish to leave the session space for a while and he directed me straight to one of the vans sitting in the parking lot. 
My last session was with a challenging group of men who live in an untenable situation- stuck in a room, all day long, dependent on whoever was coming in to support them, and angry, frustrated, powerless. One of the men, the youngest in the group at only 31, yelled and yelled and yelled, as he often does, but this time, even though he doesn't use words to speak, I distinctly heard, through his yelling, the words "I HATE THIS PLACE!! I HATE THIS PLACE!!" 
Our session had begun with one of the guys being pushed back into the room by his annoyed staff person. I knew he preferred not to be with us, and I had encouraged him to go and be in the other area, so instead of taking off his shoes, his shirt, his pants and grabbing at me, he kindly got up and walked toward the door. His staff person pushed him back in, because, she said, "he keeps going and leaving the day area and eloping, and we are so short-staffed, I can't watch him and all these other guys as well, so he's going to have to stay in here! Everyone gets frustrated that there aren't any staff, and then they call off!" She, too, was in an awful situation.
It was hard to know what to offer the men, musically, that could even come close to supporting them. All I could do was acknowledge it and let them know, "I hear you, and, yes, it is very hard to live here, and right now it's also very hard to work here. And I hear you saying you hate this place, and I'm sorry you're feeling so disrespected." 
And so, as I felt as if absolutely nothing I could do would be of any help to the guys, one of the most poignant moments was when the young man who was screaming came over to me, after four times, handing me my guitar case and seemingly letting me know he wanted me to leave, picked up a brush that was sitting on the table, and he handed it to me. I was holding my guitar, and I thought, "Whaaaa?" Until he pulled my hand to his head, and he kept a hold on me as he slowly had me brush his hair. 
So, Michel Martin, thank you for reminding me that what I do have to offer my clients is "show them that they exist."

Monday, January 10, 2022

Back at it!

Okay. Seriously, this break from the blog has gone on way too long. Here's the thing though: 

I retired from my job in 2021. 

Yeah, I know. I never would have thought I'd be capable of it either, but here I am. Alive. Retired! And, astonishingly, kind of digging it. So...what the heck am I doing with myself?

I just finished a draft of an article for a special edition of Voices (with huge thanks to my friend, Dr. Henny Kupferstein, who kindly helped me re-organize and finish the thing already, before it ended up becoming a 387 page book). The title is Getting to 'no' you: When nonspeaking autistic people refuse music therapy. Here's the Abstract, in case you're curious:
Nonspeaking autistic people frequently begin music therapy at the request of others. Typically, family or care systems are tasked with making decisions on their behalf and have decided this service will be of benefit. Consequently, music therapy is a given rather than a choice. For this paper I have used my own evolving understanding to explore the complexities and power dynamics related to nonspeaking people being able to say ‘no’ to music therapy. Elements in this discussion include: (a) the ability, and safety, to say 'no' in the context of a culture of compliance (b) the complicated relationship between music therapists and the systems within which they work, and how this affects the therapy relationship, and (c) the role of music therapy practice standards. I advocate the following:  (1) presume competence; (2) enter the therapy space with curiosity and openness, (3) be willing to ‘get to know’, (4) coping skills or communication attempts are not ‘behavior’ in need of correction, and (5) learn how each nonspeaking person communicates ‘no.’ Actively encouraging and respecting treatment refusal goes a long way toward building a respectful music therapy practice/relationship.
 It was, as most things I seem to do are, a complicated topic. Not so much complicated because nonspeaking people should be listened to (that's a given), but more because I wanted to address (in as respectful and calm a way as possible) how many elements stand in the way of nonspeaking autistic people being heard at all, let alone experiencing self-determination. It, um, required a lot of editing before I could submit it. 

I finally finished reading Music heard so deeply: A music therapy memoir, by my colleague, Betsey King, which I quite enjoyed (especially the stories of her work). In fact, as I've discovered, one of the nicest things about being retired is having time to read! 

I've been exploring collage, because...why not? This one was inspired by one of the folx I worked with for a long time. He is a brilliant, curious man, who, besides being a news junkie, wanted to learn about space. 

As you might imagine, I miss the people who I spent so many years with as a music therapist. I suspect you'll be hearing about what it was like to spend my last year or so working, and retiring,  during a pandemic. know...welcome back!  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It's January, and that means it's Social Media Advocacy Month

As you've probably surmised, from the festive badge and such, it's that time of the year again where we music therapists use the power of social media to advance the cause of music therapy in our respective states. 

The good news: it seems to be working! 

As the lovely Kat Fulton of Music Therapy Ed points out, we've been recognized in major publications (online and off), and we've even been named Persons of the Week for gosh sakes! Amazingly, nowadays we can even see characters who are music therapists in books, on television series and in movies

As a person who's been at this a while (ahem!), it's refreshing to meet people, tell them I'm a music therapist and have them respond with "Cool!" rather than "you're a what?" 

Dena Register (see below for her 2016 article) sees our advocacy styles as falling into three different categories. She identifies us as Connectors, Reflectors and Directors (I mean, don't we all really want to direct?). This is certainly true, and many of us do have these characteristics. But I want to propose another feature music therapists of the world possess, which is that of being Innovators

We've only just celebrated our 65th anniversary as an official profession. In that time, we have grown in remarkable ways. We've become an actual profession, complete with professional competencies, standards of practice, a code of ethics, board certification, journals, along with new and innovative research methods that use the arts as their basis!

We are curious, we're determined, and we work hard to find news ways to grow and extend what we already know as a field. When we're faced with our clients day after day, we are truly with them. We take our failures, and we try again, learning from our mistakes as we boldly explore new ideas and approaches. 

Yes. We are Innovators. And because of that, there is a profession called 'music therapy.' 


And I will now step off of my soapbox and invite you to read Dena's perspective on the matter: 

Social Media Advocacy Month 2016
Dena Register, PhD, MT-BC
Certification Board for Music Therapists
Regulatory Affairs Advisor

Each New Year brings the opportunity to reflect on all that we have accomplished and to determine what is needed in the coming year to move forward. As the Regulatory Affairs (CBMT) and Government Relations (AMTA) teams reflect on the first 10 years of the State Recognition Operational Plan, we are grateful for the number of individuals that have actively engaged in the advocacy process. We have had the incredible fortune to watch groups of diverse individuals pull together, capitalize on their strengths, and create access to services for clients and families that benefit greatly from music therapy.

One of the observations we reflect on regularly is what makes an advocacy team successful. The teams that stand out are those that have 3 different kinds of participants: Connectors, Reflectors and Directors. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, this seems to be a “triple threat” of action-oriented personalities that are able to work in tandem and move a group forward.

Building Bridges 
“Connectors” are people who are gifted at building bridges by bringing others together and recognizing complimentary skill sets in those that they know.  Connectors enjoy creating opportunities for people from diverse background and experiences to meet and interact. The role of the Connector in advocacy is to maximize the human resources available to them and to increase the network for their cause by helping interested parties get to know one another and discuss common interests. It is often the Connectors who are able to establish relationships with legislators or other decision makers that develops them into incredible advocates.

Holding Up the Mirror 
“Reflectors” are gifted at taking in information, experiences, and perceptions and—as the name implies—reflecting back the most salient points to those around them. Reflectors often have a knack for diffusing situations by indicating an understanding and empathy for someone else’s position. Reflectors also make great advocates because of their fierce loyalty to their cause. Their ability to see issues from multiple perspectives and then to communicate that to multiple audiences brings all sides of an issue to the foreground for discussion. Reflectors unite various individuals and guide the group to a vision that recognizes the complexity of all issues.

Consulting the Compass
“Directors” are the ones who are able to see the big picture of possibilities that exist beyond the current situation. They are able to assimilate the work of the “Reflectors” and the “Connectors” and navigate a course of next steps based on that information. Directors also gather additional relevant information as they move forward and constantly attend to what course corrections are necessary to get to their end goal. Those who are most successful in this role demonstrate flexibility in their thinking and actions, which allows them to accommodate to various situations that are presented and that often change without prior notice. Directors take a broad view of an issue, projecting out beyond it’s current status or challenge and using an ideal vision or end goal to guide the day-to-day steps necessary to get there.

So how about you? Are you a Connector, Reflector, or Director? Or maybe there is another description you would use? We would like to hear from you about other characteristics or personalities that you find “key” in advocacy.