I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to pay attention in music therapy. I believe it started when I agreed to take practicum students from the music therapy program at Montclair State University. I don’t, by the way, mean “paying attention” as a goal to be worked on with our clients. I mean as a goal to be worked on for ourselves. More specifically, I’m looking at what do we, as music therapists, pay attention to when we’re working? How do we know which observations are relevant? How does what we see/experience/notice/play musically or miss altogether fit into the context of therapy? And, for crying out loud, what the heck does it all mean?
Part of the training for music therapists (at both undergraduate and graduate levels) involves pairing a student (sometimes two students) with a professional in the field and having the student observe the professional as s/he conducts music therapy. The student is simultaneously learning about therapy theories, the uses of music, and group dynamics and such in their classes at school. Personally, I think this is an awfully nice way to learn, because you get to see and apply what you’re learning immediately, so it makes more sense.
Understandably, it’s not that easy to teach the skill of observation when you’re in a classroom and talking theoretically...or even when you’re having people role-play that they’re in a music therapy session and have whatever situation you’ve assigned to them (i.e., students might be asked to play the role of rowdy kids with ADHD or the role of an elderly woman with dementia, etc.) .
Getting back to the practicum placement...gradually, the students begin their interactions with the clients by conducting part of the session (for example, they may start by preparing some form of a greeting song and then trying it out with clients). By the second semester students are asked to conduct an entire session (while being closely supervised by the more experienced music therapist).
As a part of the learning process, the students fill out various forms and come up with musical experiences based on the goals and objectives they choose. This is after observing the professional music therapist working with a particular person or group for a period of time. Most students are also asked to complete logs- which, to the best of my recollection, are a way for them to look at some of the feelings and reactions they notice in themselves as they go through their practicum experiences.
Because I don’t use an activities approach, I adapted a form for my students to fill out which reflects the relationally-based and process-oriented approach that I do use. It asks a lot of them, particularly with regard to paying attention and learning how to be in a state of perpetual observation.
One of my favorite authors is Patrick Casement, who I discovered by accident one day while I was rummaging through books in the Hahnemann University (now Drexel University) library. His book “Learning From the Patient” is an excellent resource (even though he’s not a music therapist) for learning how to...well, learn from our clients as well as learning from our own reactions to our clients.
There is a lot to pay attention to in music therapy. There’s the client to notice (and all of the stuff that goes along with being that particular human being); there’s the music (which, of course, has all sorts of elements), and then there’s ourselves (and the feelings that we notice floating by as we are engaged in the process of doing music therapy).
Clearly there’s more to think about on this subject, and, since I’m working on putting together a presentation and an article about paying attention, you’ll probably be hearing more about it in the next few months.