Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Owning your music therapist

Well, it turned out that none of the guys actually said “no” to music therapy today.  There was some ambivalence though (we’ll always have ambivalence, won’t we?), so I thought I might end up going back to the Music Room and doing paperwork (yahoo.) for much of the afternoon.   Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Part of my job is picking up my clients for their sessions.  That means that I walk over to the buildings where they live, sign them out, and we walk over to the Music Room.  This, in itself, is not a big deal (well, it is a big deal when I have to break into a sprint if someone I’m walking with takes off in another direction).  The difficulty is that I work with more than one person in a building, so when I’m picking up one person for his session, someone else I work with is very likely to be watching me.
I think we all have a quiet fantasy that our therapist likes us best out of all of his/her clients.   If you happen to be someone who is treated like nothing special, it’s a particularly intense wish.   Let’s face it, living in an institution is not exactly fun, nor is it inspiring, and if you’re a generally sweet, quiet person who doesn’t assert him/herself too strongly, you’re pretty much ignored.  If you don’t use speech, and you have an unusual way of being, people don’t tend to act like they like being around you. 
So, along comes a music therapist who is paying attention to you and who genuinely seems to like you.  How wonderful and gratifying!  But then you see her picking up someone else for his session, and your whole “I’m the special person in her life” fantasy?  Shot to hell! 
The men and women who live in our center (and I dare say in every institution everywhere) are acutely aware of their perpetual loneliness.   An awful lot of people never get visits from their families, have no idea what it means to have or be a friend, and they rely on staff for pretty much everything (because that’s how it’s been set up)- including emotional support and connection.  That connection thing doesn’t always happen.  Being resourceful and hopeful (and how on earth can you not love and respect a person who after years of institutional garbage still has hope?!), my clients keep an alert eye out for people who are truly present and who care about them (not just for them).  
Which brings me to this idea of “owning” your music therapist.  Sometimes it feels as if my clients wish to “own” me.  All three of the folks I worked with this afternoon are somewhere on the autism spectrum, and two of the gentlemen seem to have strong reactions to my working with other people who live in their buildings.  
Interestingly, to me anyway, a couple of weeks ago I used the song “You Don’t Own Me” in a session with one of these men, because it suddenly came to my mind while I was working with him (ah, the miracle of the countertransferential song!).  The song had meaning on a couple of different levels, I thought.  One was my initial experience of him, sensing that he wanted me to back off and let him figure something out on his own.  Another element was my sense that he quite dislikes my working with other people in his living group (yes, people live in groups in institutions) and that sense of his “owning” me.

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