Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How do we cope when our clients are in terrible emotional pain?

My supervisee brought up a very important question/comment in supervision tonight. We were talking about dealing with clients/patients who are extremely ill, or whose families are coping with very difficult medical news.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a therapist is that it's so hard to see our patients/clients in terrible emotional pain. We, with our images of ourselves as caring music therapists, and as people who tend to be sensitive to the turmoil in other people, want to fix it. We want to come up with the "right" music, the "right" words, the "right" intervention.

We want to do this, but we can't.

We can't always figure out how to be with, come to terms with, help, support our patients (and their families) when they are in the midst of dealing with devastating news, when they are coping with trauma, when we send them back to hellish living situations, and so on.

What I suggested was the usual:
1) We need to trust that what we have to offer may be helpful in ways we can't know.
2) We need to take care of ourselves musically, emotionally, so we can come to terms with this sort of thing.
3) Sometimes having a some sort of spiritual way of understanding things helps.

As I thought about it further (after my supervisee and I said goodnight), it occurred to me that we tend to think we know what our clients/patients need.

We forget that we only see them in a particular setting, in a particular venue, in one specific context, in a specific and painful moment in their lives. And we forget that we don't have the context of the person's whole life and all the many intricate elements that make up someone's complex relationships and experiences.

Because we don't have that, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking (along with our clients/patients) that this is the only moment they're going to have. This terrible thing, moment, or experience is what is going to define them forever and ever.

And, yes, it may. Some people do define themselves by their most painful moments.

But it also may be true that the pain, sadness, fear and struggle are exactly what that person needs to go through at exactly that moment in his/her life in order to become who they came to be in this earth. In order to evolve and grow in some important way.

I try to remind myself (when I'm in the midst of feeling as if I'm never going to do/be enough for a client) that I don't know what my client needs (within the context of his/her life),

But I can offer what I have to offer: my presence, my caring, empathy, music, compassion, and maybe even love (okay, a therapeutic love). And it's important that, on some level, I recognize that what I have to offer is enough, and it may be exactly what the person needed in that specific moment. No one else but me could have offered it in the same way.

By the same token, there will be other people in our clients' lives who offer them what they have to offer them.

For all we know, it could be that our clients' real need is to learn how to receive. Well, we don't know the answer to that. But we do offer ourselves and what we do know. That our clients matter to us.

And our presence matters to them. Somehow.

And so it goes.

1 comment:

Kelly Muys Wood said...

It's interesting, because I think that this can be applied toward not only your patients, but many people who come into our lives. While most probably have an easier time communicating than your patients, their level of self realization may prevent them from being open to what they need (in a larger sense than the present moment).

It's something I'll try to keep in mind next time I'm dealing with a difficult person!