Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"That was so much fun!"

"That was so much fun!"  Well!  I don't usually hear that from the direct support staff who take part in music therapy groups with me.  Actually I don't usually have any staff with me when I'm doing music therapy.  Long ago I decided to work alone when I do sessions, because the direct support staff and I tend to...work in very different ways.  Ahem.  

As such, you may be wondering why I actually decided to include the staff when I started a new music therapy group with the women in Group 2.  Well, for one thing, this can be a pretty rough crowd- I've seen one of these women tear apart an entire bathroom, ripping down shower curtains, tossing clothing and bathing items asunder, and then shred her clothing in a matter of seconds (let me tell you- that's a talent).  Another woman tends to yank hair, scratch, and bang her head on the floor.  As you might imagine, having their support staff around could be a very good thing.  

Another reason I wanted the staff in this group to come with me is that they are consistently with that specific group on Monday evenings.  Most importantly (to me anyway), these three group leaders (as they are referred to in our facility) really seem to like the ladies they support (I'm not being nasty here- sadly, I don't always see this attitude in this line of work).  They were very enthusiastic when I asked them if they were interested in our doing a music therapy group.  

We agreed to move the ladies from their usual living area (a room with no outside windows, in the middle of the cottage, surrounded by a lot of noise from neighboring day areas) to a room across the hall where the recreation staff works.  It's generally a quiet room, it's contained, it has chairs (even though various members of this group like to be mobile or recline on beanbags), and we can use fewer lights (the fluorescent lights are quite horrible) because it has windows.  

I also wanted the staff to understand the point of music therapy- give them a context within which to interpret what they might experience in the sessions.  I wanted to give them an idea of what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, what I'm watching and listening for, and how I'm going to do what I do. So I gave each of them a copy of a detailed memo I wrote a long time ago for supervisors who periodically come to observe sessions.  

I also gave them the Music Therapy Observation Form I've been working on for quite a while.  It's a complex form which I usually have my practicum students fill out  on a weekly basis.  It asks a lot of questions meant to provoke thought with regard to what the music therapist is seeing, sensing, hearing, and musing about during the group.  It also encourages attention to the relational qualities and dynamics within the group and how these might be expressed (or avoided) in the music.  It also notes some of the elements which might be going on (or ongoing) for clients in addition to the experience of being in the music therapy group (illness, sensory issues, motor planning problems, traumas, family stuff, etc.).  

We've had three sessions so far.  If all of the group members (minus their staff) show up we have seven women- which may end up being a lot, but we'll see how it goes.  The best we've managed so far is to have six women and two staff people. Sometimes the ladies decide to go to bed early, sometimes they head out with the teachers, and sometimes they need a break from the group and want to do their own thing.  

All but one of the women in the group are somewhere along the autism spectrum.  And, again with the exception of the one woman (who is dealing with mental illness along with her developmental disability), none of the ladies use speech to communicate.  They are, however, women with voices.  Quite a range of voices, I might add.  From low and gruff to high and sweet.

One of the things I noticed with regard to the group leaders is that they tend to chatter almost constantly with the women in their group.  This is actually, in many ways, a very good thing.  So I didn't want to discourage their natural tendency to want to interact, but their conversation, while animated and pleasant for the most part, was making it awfully hard to actually hear the group members.

Last night three of the women were present in the group.  I gently invited their support staff to listen- reminding them, "this is your opportunity to hear the ladies you work for in a completely different way."   They were quiet, and they listened. And it was great!  

I offered V a maraca.  She had come in to the room using her wheelchair, because her staff, M, was concerned she'd grab at and scratch everyone (and, indeed, she did seem headed in that direction as she began to pull roughly at M's shirt).  V held the maraca, evidently curious enough that she was able to settle herself down. In fact, she didn't grab anyone else for the rest of the session.

K was awake (last week she slept on a cushion we had brought for her- this time she had a big long beanbag and a blanket).  K is often asleep during the day, because, from what I can gather, she doesn't sleep well at night. I sang a greeting to her (and to her housemates). I invited her to turn toward each woman in the group (she is also visually impaired), asking them to alert her as to where they were located in the room by making some form of sound (her staff included).  She listened quietly as each of us made a sound or greeted her with a "hi, K" and turned her head to acknowledge that she had heard us.  

M switched chairs a number of times, making sure to stay near me, even maintaining visual contact.  She sang through much of the 30-minute session, quietly, a high-pitched and delicate collection of short little four and five note melodies and bursts (for lack of a better word).  

At one point, L agreed to come in to join us.  She still had a cold, but she accepted the tube shaker from T (her staff), and she shook it vigorously for about 30 seconds, set it down, picked it up to give it one more good shake, and handed it back to T and left.  

V eventually decided she wanted to get out of her wheelchair and sit on the beanbag with K (apparently they like each other well enough and are used to sharing this space).  There was no scratching or grabbing.  K decided to stand and move to the music (I too got up to sing and rock across from her while I followed her rocking on the guitar).

It was hard to have to sing "goodbye" to them all, because it truly was enchanting to watch the group transform into this lovely music-making collective.  T was astonished and excited (having assured me when we began that she had read all the papers I'd handed her the previous week and found them fascinating).

As we sang "goodbye" V, who had been holding the maraca so quietly, decided to join in with her voice.  Indeed, "that was so much fun."


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