Sunday, January 24, 2010


Collared Inca hoveringImage via Wikipedia
On Wednesday this past week, O, was hovering nearby, poking and pushing at me as I tried to find E's jacket in the never-endingly-impossible-to-ever-find-anything-in-it closet. He actually followed me from room to room as I hunted through wardrobes and fished through various drawers for E's hat.

I told him I was glad he wanted to say "hello", but "right now it's E's time," and I promised I'd check in with him when we returned. If he still wanted me to sit with him then, I'd make some time for him.  

Well, E and I left and came back. And forty-five minutes later O was still reaching out and poking at me.

Guess he must mean business.

These days O's music therapy is on an "as needed" basis. When he wants some time with me he lets me know (as evidenced by the above mentioned interaction). He seems to like to just sit quietly, performing his usual series of rituals, while listening to me play the guitar and sing. 

It's probably helpful for you to know that O has terrible problems with his sensory system, and he often asks (and by "asks" I mean pokes and prods until we get the hint) people he knows and feels safe with to help him when he needs a back massage to alleviate his discomfort. 

On this particular day I figured he probably wanted me to provide some deep pressure to his back. 

He pushed me onward, out into the hallway, and we sat on a couch.

As I sat next to him, pressing my hand hard into his back, I grinned as I thought about our first music therapy session together, some seventeen or eighteen years ago. 

At the time we conducted our sessions in the dorms. Each of the dorms had four beds in it. In honor of the session (and in order to create a space that at least sort of implied "we do music therapy here") I pulled in two chairs and brought along my cart full of instruments, setting some of them out on a dresser.  

I picked up O from his day area (the cottages were all locked back then) and brought him to this makeshift music therapy space.

As soon as he got into the room he yanked all the covers and sheets off of the beds, hurled all the instruments onto the floor, kicked over both chairs and knocked over my music cart. 


The only thing I managed to save (barely) was my guitar, which I'd snatched up when I saw the rhythm instruments go flying.


I mean...really.


I sent him back to his day area (wondering why exactly I'd gone into this damned field anyway), went back, cleaned up the mess, and wondered what the heck I was supposed to do now.

I showed up at the next session with nothing but my voice (I learn fast, eh?).  I knew he liked "backrubs," although at the time I didn't realize it had to do with sensory problems. Just as I did this past Wednesday, after I let him know what I was planning to do, I pressed the palms of my hand to his back. And then, unaccompanied by any instrument, I sang to him. 

I sang about what I was doing, what (safe) ways he could use to let me know if he needed me to stop, and I sang about keeping the room a safe (is anyone else noticing a theme here?) place. 

Happily, although it took some time, O got used to me, and I began to understand what worked for him and what didn't. 

The fact that he now can let me know when he needs my assistance (or not) and that I can sit with him playing the guitar with no instruments being hurled about makes my day. 

And it reminds me that music therapy matters. It may not always look as I expect, but it matters. 


Rachel Rambach said...

Great post, Roia. I also like to think back to my first sessions with my students, most of whom I've been working with for 3 years now (I can't imagine 17 or 18 years - wow!). I had several of those "what the heck am I doing here?!" moments myself, which makes me laugh now that I understand everyone's individual quirks and signals (most of the time). That makes such a world of difference!

Dirk Cushenbery said...

Hey Roia! Your title and graphic make good metaphors. Yeah I remember my first month or so on my first music therapy job, after moving about 760 miles away, and being introduced to a combination of pica and rumination disorder. Okay that is a big understatement. I agree with Rachel. A sense of humor is of great value. Well, moving great distances sometimes helps with these things too. :)

Roia said...

Honestly, Rachel, I can't believe it's been this long either. It's a bit of a mind-blower, I must admit. The bummer is that, even after this long, I wouldn't even dare say I always "get it" when my clients are poking and prodding at me. But they certainly have taught me a thing or two.

Dirk (and Rachel), I would definitely say that without a sense of humor I'd have given up a long time ago (and I've got a lot of "long time" in my "ago" at this point). :-)

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, guys!

Roia said...

P.S. Um, yeah. Pica and rumination. Just. Yeah.

Definitely. Sense of humor required. And sometimes a strong stomach.