Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"Killing me softly with [her] song"

One of the guys I work with has been flatly refusing to allow me to play music during his sessions.  He hasn’t always been this adamant about the music needing to be stopped.  And I do mean stopped.  When I start to play he pulls the guitar off of me, or he takes my hands off of the piano.  He’s even thrown my sheet music to the floor.  He’s also tossed quite a few of my rhythm instruments across the room- to the point where I only leave the lighter weight instruments available so that they won’t break or kill me if they land on the floor too hard or hit me in the head.  We’ve worked together for ten years, and during much of that time he was willing to let me play- not all the time, but there was music going on in the sessions, and I was the one doing the playing.  


A lot of years ago (I mean...a LOT of years ago), I went to a presentation by Ken Bruscia at a music therapy conference, and I took a lot of notes (as I tend to do).  One of the things that I recall most vividly from his talk was his description of music therapy as having three components:  the client, the therapist, and the music.  And the music therapist’s job is to sort out all of the various relationships which occur between these three...elements (or maybe aspects is a better word?) in a music therapy session.  


See, now this is what makes music therapy so fascinating and complex to me.  If you think about it (and obviously this is not news to music therapists who use a psychodynamic approach), the music therapist and the music act as co-therapists.  You might notice the nicely parental quality that this duo implies. 


At any rate, it’s interesting (to me anyway) to speculate as to what it means when a client “abandons” the music.  It has crossed my mind that by abandoning the music my client is playing out the abandonment he himself has felt in his life.  He has some issues around parental abandonment, I believe (he hasn’t seen his family for years), and the music is part of a “parental team” (so to speak), so I wonder... is this his way of protecting himself from being abandoned again?  Or maybe “I’ll abandon you before you abandon me” is his unconscious thought process.  


He is clear that the relationship with me is important, but his relationship with the music has been ambivalent, to say the least.  Maybe there’s some sort of splitting involved (as in, I could be temporarily playing the role of the “good mother” while the music has taken on “bad mother” qualities).  


I guess another possibility is that he doesn’t particularly like the music I’m choosing, or he doesn’t like the way I sing or the way I play (which would be an interesting enough issue for us to explore).  Or the songs I’m choosing have no relevance to him.  I doubt that’s the case, but I could be wrong.


From another perspective entirely, could there be something around being heard (or not being heard, as the case may be)?  It occurs to me that an autistic person who doesn’t use speech to communicate and who has lived in an institution for the vast majority of his life is used to a lot of silence when it comes to his feelings, his thoughts, dreams, opinions, fears, loves, and so on.  To hear them suddenly expressed (spoken out loud) in the music- even if I’m not exactly right on in my guesses- can be daunting and feel rather like being exposed, I imagine.


I was thinking about that this afternoon during his session, and the song I chose to use was “Killing Me Softly With [Her] Song”.  And you know what?  He didn’t stop me from playing this song:


I heard [she] sang a good song.

I heard [she] had a style.

And so I came to see [her] to listen for a while.

And there [she] was, this young [girl]

A stranger to my eyes


Strumming my pain with [her] fingers,

Singing my life with [her] words.

Killing me softly with [her] song,

Killing me softly with [her] song,

Telling my whole life with [her] words,

Killing me softly... with [her] song.


I felt all flushed with fever,

Embarrassed by the crowd,

I felt [she] found my letters 

And read each one out loud.

I prayed that [she] would finish

But [she] just kept right on


Strumming my pain with [her] fingers,

Singing my life with [her] words.

Killing me softly with [her] song,

Killing me softly with [her] song,

Telling my whole life with [her] words,

Killing me softly... with [her] song.


[She] sang as if [she] knew me,

In all my dark despair.

And then [she] looked right through me

As if I wasn’t there.

But [she] was there, this stranger,

Singing clear and strong


Strumming my pain with [her] fingers,

Singing my life with [her] words.

Killing me softly with [her] song,

Killing me softly with [her] song,

Telling my whole life with [her] words,

Killing me softly... with [her] song.


© 1972 by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel


As I talked about this with him, we noted the irony of the fact that his silence affords him a measure of privacy in an institution, one of the least private places in which a person can live.  


After I sang the song, he got up and moved to a different area of the room.  It seemed as if he needed to think about this for a while.  I’ll be thinking about it too.  A part of me felt as if I needed to apologize to him for being musically invasive in some way.  On the other hand, it’s my job to offer him a different way of seeing his life and his experiences.  I do that using music.  Well, it certainly does remind me of, first, how powerful music is, and, second, how much power I have as a therapist (and the need for me to be conscious of that power and to use it with care).  


Having been through my own therapy, I know how hard it is to recognize something in yourself suddenly.  In music therapy, the effect is even more sudden, because, as my clinical supervisor, Janice, notes, “Music hits you at the speed of sound.”  

 

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