A few of my clients often refuse to allow there to be music in their sessions. They don’t usually play any of the instruments, and their vocalizations are sporadic. When I start to play they either physically intervene (taking my hands off the piano or pushing the guitar off my lap) or they find ways to make sure the process of the music is stopped. I suppose I could spend time worrying about this (okay, the truth is that sometimes I do worry about it), but I’m starting to figure that it really is all “grist for the mill,” as Janice, my clinical supervisor, has told me over and over again.
One of the men I work with is very sensitive to sound (I mean VERY sensitive to sound). The cottage where he lives is loud most of the time, to say the least. The ceilings are high, and a large room is subdivided into four group areas, each equipped with various stereo components, televisions, and extremely powerful speakers (or so it seems). And it is highly unusual for me to be in there and not hear four different sets of sounds coming from four different areas, all echoing off of the walls. There are no carpets or other sound-absorbing devices, so the sounds are quite “live”. I have often wondered if my client has grown to hate music with a passion after enduring that kind of intense non-stop noise all day long. I wouldn’t blame him if he did. I’d probably feel that way myself.
A thought that ran through my mind during our session today (aside from noting out loud that “in your case, silence is indeed golden”) was this: if anyone in the world is to teach me that music therapy is not all about sound- silence is just as crucial, and honoring the need for silence is definitely necessary- it’s this man.
Another reason he may be “asking” me to stop playing music is that when I do play, it is often a song that has emerged from my countertransference reaction. Naturally, those songs tend to be intense and full of emotional meaning. Understandably, he may be hesitant when he hears me fire up the old guitar and start strumming a few chords.
I wonder, also, if his wanting me to not play music (and his own refusal to participate musically) is a way to fit me into a particular image he may have of me (in other words, his transference). Maybe something in a “you’re not my music therapist, Roia...you can play the role of my family, and I can finally have someone visit with me after all these years.”
Certainly that seemed to be the case with another gentleman I worked with this afternoon. I usually see that particular person on Fridays, but because of our celebration he missed his session. I had some time today, so I asked him if he wanted to make up his time. He did. I knew he probably wouldn’t make it to the Music Room (he hasn’t for a while, but he has been clear that he wanted to maintain the connection with me). I presumed that we would walk to the building where the Music Room is located (we did), and he would probably turn around and want to leave (he did).
Things were going fine (and as expected) until we got back to his cottage. For the past month or so he has been content to do one of three things: head back in to his group, head in to the cottage and have me sit with him in the back hallway, or hang around outside (in the front yard of the cottage) until it’s time to go. Today, though, as his cottage came into view, he pulled me insistently back toward the Music Room building. It was quite sunny and rather humid out, and I was starting to feel a bit desperate for shade.
He is at least a head and a half taller than I am, so when he doesn’t mean to be turned around it’s hard for me to convince him otherwise. I noticed that he was quite clear, also, about holding on to my hand (along with his important plastic objects- I know I’m important to him now, because he actually seems to want me to share space with his beloved objects). Although I started to feel frustrated with his pulling, and uncomfortable with my own response of trying to pull him back toward the cottage, I knew he needed me to support him in some way.
When we reached the Music Room building, he managed to pull me into the Canteen (which is just inside the entrance). I didn’t want us to be in there, because, for one thing, I didn’t think I’d be able to get him out, and, for another, neither one of us had any money. Mostly, though, I continually remind him that he and I don’t have a “canteen-going relationship. We do music therapy together.”
Well, at 1:45 PM on a Saturday afternoon, the Canteen usually has a few families scattered about visiting with their sons or daughters. That was when the light finally went on for me. I realized that, on my way over to pick him up, I had seen one of his house-mates heading out for a visit with his family and another family on their way in to the cottage. As we were walking, we saw a man visiting with his brother. He knows I like him, and here I was, coming on a Saturday and not his usual Wednesday or Friday. It must have seemed quite familial to him.
As soon as I acknowledged his apparent longing for family to visit with on a weekend (and that he seemed to wish for me to play that role), we were able to leave the building and go back to the cottage with some measure of peace. Well, it was difficult for him to actually let me go when we arrived in his group area, but there was, finally, a different level of understanding.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any music in that session. But it was, I think, an important session. Definitely, in spite of the challenges, it was a necessary part of the process for the two of us.