Thursday, April 8, 2010

Taboo Topics in Music Therapy- Part II- The handout

Here, as promised, is the handout from the presentation. If you'd like to use it in some way, please do. Just kindly give me credit, eh? 

Taboo Topics in Music Therapy
March 26th, 2010
Mid-Atlantic Region Music Therapy Conference, Pittsburgh, PA

It’s the stuff we don’t look at and we don’t talk about that gets us into trouble.

Identifying Personal “Taboos”
Part 1
Clues that something may be going on in sessions that needs exploring (some parts of the following list have been taken directly from Pope, Sonne, and Greene’s book What Therapists Don’t Talk About: Understanding Taboos That Hurt Us and Our Clients):

  • Avoiding certain topics
  • Changes in how you are using the music in your sessions (i.e., using more music than usual, less music than usual, noticing a particular musical pattern, etc.)
  • Doing the same thing with every client/group
  • Finding yourself bored or unusually tired/drowsy during sessions
  • Having a particularly strong reaction to a specific client
  • Obsession
  • Seeking repeated reassurance from colleagues
  • Creating a secret
  • Fantasizing or daydreaming about a client
  • Increase in physically handling or touching a client
  • “Forgetting” the therapy goals
  • Feeling extremely uncomfortable with a client
  • Feeling embarrassed by your reactions to a particular client

Part 2
In the process of exploring, ask yourself a lot of who/what/why/how/when/where questions, such as the following:

  • What’s going on for me in this situation? What is my reaction to this client/group/staff person/situation? What’s going on in my life?
  • Why am I reacting in this particular way? To this particular client/group/situation? What’s going on in the session?
  • Whose need am I meeting?
  • What information do I have/need to try to figure this out?
  • Do I have this reaction to all of my clients or is it just with this person?
  • How has my use of music with this client changed?
  • Has there been an overall change in how I interact with this client?
  • Has there been a role reversal (where I feel as if my client is acting more like a therapist than I am)? Why might that be?
  • What is different about the way I’m interacting with this client versus how I interact with my other      clients?
  • When did my behavior with this client shift? Was there a specific incident that I recall?
  • Has a client (or have I) ever done something that put me in a very awkward or uncomfortable position? Have I worried that other people would find out?
  • Have I ever tried to justify my behavior with a particular client?
  • Have I been avoiding discussing this situation/my feelings with a trusted colleague or clinical supervisor? Or have I only talked about it peripherally or in an “edited” way?
  • With whom can I discuss this situation and get some guidance/support?

Part 3
Situations/encounters/issues I’ve had in my experience as a music therapist that I have avoided talking about, feel ashamed about, I’m not sure how to handle, or that have made me very uncomfortable:



Referring back to each of the situations you described above:

When (Situation #1) _______________________________________________happens/happened I feel/felt:  ________________________________________________. This affects/has affected me/my work in the following ways (i.e., made it difficult for me to work with a particular client/group, created an uncomfortable work situation, kept me from doing something I should have done, led me to do something I wouldn’t otherwise have done, or I don’t know if it has affected my work):

Some of the actions I take/have taken to address the situation/encounter/issues are:



When (Situation #2) _______________________________________________happens/happened I feel/felt:  ________________________________________________. This affects/has affected me/my work in the following ways:

Some of the actions I take/have taken to address the situation/encounter/issues are:



When (Situation #3) _______________________________________________happens/happened I feel/felt:  ________________________________________________. This affects/has affected me/my work in the following ways:

Some of the actions I take/have taken to address the situation/encounter/issues are:



Looking at our resistance
Some of the reasons I have had for not talking about the above situations/encounters/issues are (try to be as specific as you can in describing your feelings and beliefs):



Identifying Resources
Here are some people with whom I feel safe enough to discuss these situations/encounters/issues (i.e., a clinical supervisor, a music therapist whose work I admire, a current or former professor, a trusted colleague, a personal therapist, a group of peers, an online community- in all cases, bearing in mind the matter of client confidentiality, other resources, etc.):



References, Books, and Articles I’ve Found That Are Helpful or Thought-Provoking

Bridges, N. A. (1998). Teaching psychiatric trainees to respond to sexual and loving feelings: The supervisory challenge. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 7, 217-226.

Bright, R. (1996). Grief and powerlessness: Helping people regain control of their lives. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Corbett, A. (2009). “Words as a second language: The psychotherapeutic challenge of severe intellectual disability” (45-62) in (Cottis, T., Ed.) Intellectual disability, trauma and psychotherapy. New York: Routledge.

*Corey, G, Corey, M. S., & Calllanan, P. (1998). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (5th Ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing.

Davies, A. & Sloboda, A. (2009). “Turbulence at the boundary” in  Odell-Miller, H. & Richards, E. (Eds.) Supervision of music therapy: A theoretical and practical handbook, in Schaverien, J. (Series Ed.) Supervision in the arts therapies, New York: Routledge. 

*Dileo, C. (2000). Ethical thinking in music therapy. Cherry Hill, NJ: Jeffrey Books.

Dileo, C. (2001). “Ethical issues in supervision” in Forinash, M. (Ed.) Music therapy supervision. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Foster, N. (2007). ’Why can’t we be friends?’ An exploration of the concept of ‘friendship’ within client-music therapist relationships. British Journal of Music Therapy. 21(1), 12-22.

Gabbard, G. O. & Lester, E. P. (1995). Boundaries and boundary violations in psychoanalysis. New York: Basic Books.

Gabbard, G. O. (1996). Love and hate in the analytic setting. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Hunter, M. & Struve, J. (1998). The ethical use of touch in psychotherapy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Kim, J. (2009). First love- An idealized object in music therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved from

Koo, M. B. (2001). Erotized transference in the male patient-female therapist dyad. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 10, 28-36.

Kottler, J. A. (2003). On being a therapist (3rd Edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kottler, J. A. & Carlson, J. (2003). Bad therapy: Master therapists share their worst failures. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Misch, D. (2000). Great expectations: Mistaken beliefs of beginning psychodynamic psychotherapists. American Journal of Psychotherapy. 54(2), 172-203.

Oosthuizen, H. (2009). “Some thoughts on being a white music therapist” Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved from

*Pope, K. S., Sonne, J. L. , & Holroyd, J. (1993). Sexual feelings in psychotherapy: Explorations for therapists and therapists-in-training. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

*Pope, K. S., Sonne, J. L., & Greene, B. (2006). What therapists don’t talk about and why: Understanding taboos that hurt us and our clients. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Richards, E. (2009). “Whose handicap? Issues arising in the supervision of trainee music therapists in their first experience of working with adults with learning disabilities” in  Odell-Miller, H. & Richards, E. (Eds.) Supervision of music therapy: A theoretical and practical handbook, in Schaverien, J. (Series Ed.) Supervision in the arts therapies, New York: Routledge.

Rolvsjord, R. (2006). Whose power of music? A discussion of music and power-relations in music therapy. British Journal of Music Therapy. 20(1), 5-12.

Searles, H. F. (1979). Countertransference and related subjects: Selected papers. Madison, CT: International Universities Press, Inc.

Van der Klift, E. & Kunc, N. (1994). Hell-bent on helping: Benevolence, friendship, and the politics of help. Retrieved 9/23/05 from

Ulman, K. H. (2001).  Unwitting exposure of the therapist: Transferential and countertransferential dilemmas. Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 10(1), 14-22.

Yalom, I. (1989). Love’s executioner and other tales of psychotherapy. New York, NY: Perennial Classics.

* Books that are particularly useful.
Copyright 2010 Roia Rafieyan


Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC said...

Roia, thank you for creating such a great blog! I just stumbled across it while researching something for my own blog.

This post is particularly helpful to me as I continue to reflect on my own "blind spots."

I look forward to reading more of your blog and will be happy to pass it on to others as well!

Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC

Roia said...

Likewise, Tamara. I got a very good feeling from my initial checking out of your blog as well (and will add a link on this site).

And, ah, yes. Behold the power of the "blind spots", eh? So glad you're giving my blather a read. Welcome! :-)

Aniket Dhingra said...

Hey Roia. I'm so happy to see you do so well and have read your blogs.So happy to see you find your purpose in life! I'm a commercial singer/performer/songwriter but lately been having issues in doing music purposelessly. I want to help masses realise their potential through music by blending commercial music with sound healing music and cure their anxiety, stress, etc and other problems too. I have been seeing articles on sound healing ( which I know is very different from music therapy ) and was wanting to know if you knew anything about it and could guide me in any way. One specific question though- Are there any examples of sound healing music being used in commercial music?

Roia said...

Thank you, @Aniket, for your kind words. I also very much appreciate your recognizing there's a difference between sound healing and music therapy (often people *don't* so, really, thank you). You ask an interesting question, and, honestly - because it's not an area I'm familiar with - I don't really know the answer. Certainly, many people have tried to do what you're proposing, and many people have, for example, created meditation music. Have you tried connecting with any sound healing organizations ( is one I noticed when I did a quick Google search)?

That being said, I think we *all* want to make a difference in the world, and we wonder whether or not what we're doing is "enough." And when we live in a world with so much pain and suffering and anger and stress, it can feel as if what we have to offer is barely making a dent. Something I've had to learn as a music therapist (over and over and over again) is that, even when I feel overwhelmed with what feels like my own inadequacy, and when I worry I'll never be able to make any real difference in my clients' lives, I try to remember that even one meaningful relationship (even if it's someone saying hello with genuine warmth) can be life saving.

We often don't know the impact we're having on each other. Perhaps your music, a song you've written and sung from your heart (commercial or not), has been received at just the right moment by someone. Don't sell what you do short. Something we music therapists are reminded of when we're struggling with a particular client/group is to "trust the music." Moreover, as you reflect on your work as a musician and songwriter, I suspect you are simply preparing to enter into a deeper understanding of and relationship with your art and your role as an artist. You will, ultimately, put this struggle you're experiencing into your music. Your art will grow and mature and evolve as you do, and that is meaningful and powerful of itself.