Monday, February 15, 2010

What's that you say? No clothes?

Self censored - SelbstzensurImage by gynti_46 via Flickr
Periodically, when I'm minding my own business and doing a music therapy session, I will have the experience of one or the other of my clients suddenly deciding that removing his or her clothing would, at that very moment, be the most effective means of communication. 


I mean. Really. Must you? 

I don't know about you folks, but I am fairly certain that this particular topic was never covered (if you'll pardon the accidental pun) in music therapy school. 

As long as I've been a music therapist (and, let's face it, it has been quite a long time), I've never quite come up with a response that I could really say I'm happy with when I'm faced with a naked person in one of my sessions. 

Obviously, my usual response (did I say "response"? I meant "reaction") is to remind the person that we keep our clothes on in music therapy, because it keeps us all safer. And, if the person is not actively attempting to get his/her clothing back on, I do tend to offer to assist. 

All of which  may or may not be the "right" thing to do, but that's how it usually plays out.

Okay. So we all know I'm not a behaviorist. And I don't do activities. And my approach as a music therapist is generally to try to understand what the heck is going on when my clients are using whatever action they're using in order to make their point (presuming, of course, that they have their own personal reasons for choosing this particular action) (thank you very much). 

And, being me, I try to pay attention to my own emotional responses, because my experience has been that people who don't use speech will often try to get me to feel what they're feeling so I "get" what they're trying to convey to me. 

In the past two weeks I've had one man yank down his pants and underwear mid-session, and I've had a woman remove her shirt and bra (several times) in her session.

And I'm trying to make sense of these things.

So, if you don't mind, join me as I stumble along through my thought process, trying to understand what all this nudity is about.

Generally, I start with: what is this person trying to say to me?

Sometimes it's "I need a bathroom, and you weren't picking up on any of my other cues." (That's usually the first thing I ask about, because it has to be the worst thing in the world to need a bathroom and to not be able to say, "Hey, excuse me, but I've gotta go. Now!")

It could be sensory discomfort. Reasonable enough, I suppose. But if the person wasn't trying to get naked every other time s/he was in music therapy, or wearing clothes...Well, it's hard to say. 

It could be anger. 

It could be a way to say, "I feel exposed in front of you, Miss Music Therapist, asking me all these questions and paying way too much attention to me!" 

Or, in other words, "You're making me uncomfortable with all this music therapy, lady! Now I'm going to make you uncomfortable. How do you like me now?"

I suppose it could also be a way to ask me a question, such as "how safe am I if I expose myself to you, Roia? Will you hurt me? Shame me? Ridicule me? Violate me?"

Or "how will you act toward me if I do something considered taboo (since I can't tell you with words about the difficult things that have happened in my life)?"


As it turned out, with the woman, she did need to use the bathroom. But I still think there was more to it, because I'm still quite new to her (we've only had three sessions). I know she has sensory issues, but she also may be trying to learn something about me.

I'm not so sure about the man's motivation for pulling down his trousers. He didn't need a bathroom (I asked). He doesn't like leaving his session when it's time for us to end. He does have strong feelings toward me. I know I frustrate him because I can't fix it all by taking him away in a car. 


As is often the case, I'm left with "I don't know." Sure, I have ideas, but I don't know.

And, as always, I tuck the latest bit of information into my head (along with all my interpretations) and keep on going. 

Until maybe someday when another action occurs, I'll have another tiny piece of the puzzle to add to my understanding of the person standing in front of me. Exposed. 


Michelle Erfurt said...

I think that when you take off your clothes to see the other person's reaction, you are showing a high level of awareness because you are thinking outside of themself. (because you'd be interested in someone else's reaction instead of your own personal need). Either that or you have a great sense of humor... could stripping in class be an equivalent to mooning your friends or streaking at a sporting event?

Roia said...

Hm, I guess I hadn't really thought of it as "looking for my reaction", rather "trying to ask me a question without the benefit of words to do so". But, you're correct, Michelle, in that it does absolutely demonstrate that this is a person who is aware that there is a self and an other.

I do have clients who like to tease, but they don't usually strip. We usually seem to have words with regard to removing the hands from the pants. *Sigh*

Anonymous said...

Hey Roia!
I enjoyed reading this post and I don't think there is one correct answer with this situation.
As I read your description of the woman who removed her shirt/bra, and then actually did need to use the bathroom, I think sensory issues was probably your cause for that one. Several children that I have worked with (over the years) often pull their shirts up or remove them totally when they need to have a BM. Sensory related but I'm not sure of the explanation behind it.
The other gentleman you mentioned was interesting. Since you work with alot of clients with autism, I immediately thought that he could be trying to tell you something, but also remember that social cues and social conformity are not often first thoughts/priorities with people with autism. I wonder if this person has a concept of the social appropriateness of keeping pants/underwear on? I don't know the clients you described, but i think you have great ideas. :)

Roia said...

Thanks for swinging by, Amanda, and thanks also for the kind words!

Maybe people who have sensory dysfunction find that dealing with the sensory annoyance of shirts and the simultaneous sensory drama of having to poop a double whammy (so to speak). It's hard to say, and I'm not exactly sensory happiness woman myself. [Shrug]

I think the other gent does know he's supposed to keep his pants on, because 98% of the time they're on (although he does often have them a little below sea level (if you get my drift). That aspect of things may be sensory related, but the actual dropping them part is probably something else. I've even wondered if it's a way to say "F- you!" to me. Guess I'll keep sitting with him and we'll either figure it out, or he'll find another way to tell me.