Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflecting on feelings of powerlessness (a video blog)

I didn't say it specifically in the video, but I think my whole countertransference reaction was very much about feeling a sense of powerlessness - my own ("I can't fix it for you, and I hate that.") as well as what I believe was my client's experience ("I feel abandoned and forgotten and unable to change my life."). 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A musical portrait

Together We AreImage by mommy peace via FlickrAt first I thought he was angry with me. He certainly looked quite solemn. True, I'd been away for a couple of weeks, but usually he's at least willing to stand up and go to the Music Room with me. 

So I pulled up a chair and sat next to him. "You don't want to go to your session?" I asked. He hung his head down. "Okay. Can I just sit with you for a little bit?" He looked up briefly and then face down again. 

We sat for a minute. "You can come and tell me in the music if you're upset about something." He was listening, but not moving. "You know, I'm going to just go get your jacket and hold on to it. If you still don't want to come with me that's fine. But if you do, we'll have your jacket. I don't know. Maybe we could just go for a walk. It's pretty nice outside." 

I went to the coat closet, fished out his, and went back to sit next to him. The guys in his group were all watching television, so I chatted about that. After a little while, he half-smiled, got up and reached for his jacket.  "Cool!"

We headed outside into the sunshine and walked slowly. I wasn't sure whether we were just walking or if we'd be going to do his session.  As it turned out, we made it to the Music Room. 

He moved the instruments I'd put out for him onto the bench at the end of the couch and proceeded to lie down so he was facing me where I was sitting at the piano. I could hear, from the way he was breathing, that his sinuses were really giving him a hard time. 

His facial expression was still quite serious, unsmiling. I sang a greeting and asked how he was feeling. He responded with a heavy sigh.

"I realize you may have some feelings about my having been on vacation. I wonder if maybe you're feeling angry with me." And I invited him to look my way if that was the case. He did not.

Oh. Hm.

"Feeling abandoned?" A little bit of eye-contact.

We stayed there, quiet. Where to go with this?

"I'm having a hard time figuring out what might be going on for you today. I'd like to play a musical portrait of what I think I might be seeing or hearing, maybe just sensing, from you right now. If you can, will you help me by letting me know if what I'm playing makes sense. Also if it doesn't sound right, can you find a way to steer me in the right direction? I'll do my best to listen."

I played, using the piano. It was halting, dissonant- really quite dissonant, and it didn't feel very grounded. I guess you could say it sounded like someone floating and unsettled. 

As I played, I realized I hadn't "heard" his initial response accurately. He wasn't angry. The music he inspired didn't sound remotely angry. It sounded, and felt, very sad. And it probably wasn't really about me. 

"I misunderstood. I'm sorry. I think, as I'm listening to the music, I might be hearing your sadness." Slowly he turned to face me. Wow. I felt his sadness too.

What now? Where to go with all this sadness? 

As I thought about how to respond, how to be present, I was reminded of my friend, Greg, who often quotes John McNeill to me: "If anyone is willing to enter my private hell and stay there with me, then there are grounds for hope."

I invited him to hum with me as I played. I started the music where I had left off- at the musical portrait. Gradually, the sounds on the piano became slightly- only slightly- more consonant. Eventually, I was just moving between A flat and B flat, humming quietly. 

I heard sounds from him- not a lot, because it was difficult to vocalize with his nose all stuffy as it was. I moved from humming to a quiet "ee" sound, thinking it might be an easier sound for him to make.

His eyes closed and he smiled briefly. I thought he might fall asleep, as he often does. But he didn't. He listened. And we sat together in the sadness and in the music.

It was time to go. I sang a quiet goodbye, reminding him I planned to be back on Thursday. I got up to get my sweater, and he followed me to get his jacket.

He took my hand and we walked back to his cottage in the sunshine. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Behavior? Or unanswered question?

4D-RCS control loop basic internal structure.Image via Wikipedia
For at least the twelfth time in the last few years, I sat in a session today with one of my (many) clients who doesn't use speech, asking him if he might put his thoughts and reactions to the fact that we hadn't seen each other in two weeks (because I was away at the music therapy conference) into the music, and I was struck by the thought, "Geez, what if he has questions that he wants me to answer?"

I don't know whether anyone else ever wonders about this, so I'm throwing it out into the blogosphere, because it bugs me. 

All of us have questions, and when we're little kids we have about a million of them! And we ask our parents (and aunts and uncles, and any adult person, frankly) at least nine hundred thousand of the many gazilions of questions that happen to come into our excited little curious minds.

But...my clients who don't use speech can't do that! And who's to say they don't have a million questions of their own? Yet, how do you ask all your questions when talking isn't your thing?

So, as I've given this some thought, my theory is that the folks I work for are sort of forced to come up with other ways to get their questions answered. And those ways may involve doing some unusual things- maybe we could call them experiments- although more likely we call them "behaviors"- which often seems to imply "doing something that someone finds aversive, offensive or annoying and must attempt to stop".


Well, what if those "behaviors" and unexpected and odd things that this person is doing are really about asking questions that s/he needs to have answered? And what if instead of listening and collaborating to try to help figure out the question/answer, we're focusing on the fact that the "behavior" must go? 

Thursday, November 24, 2011


On this quiet Thanksgiving day, it seems right to reflect on the many aspects of being a music therapist for which I'm grateful. 

Since I've just returned from a trip to Atlanta where I participated in the national music therapy conference, it's one of the things that's very  much on my mind (oops! That was very "Georgia On My Mind" there, wasn't it?). To that end, I'm sending out a big thank you to all the folks at the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) as well as the conference chair-people and numerous volunteers for the huge amount of work that went into putting together a conference of this size! It was a great conference, and I truly enjoyed being there.

I'm also appreciative of the fact that I had the opportunity to meet many of the large collection of music therapists I've gotten to know through their blogs, tweets and list-serv postings in person. Even though I've been a part of this field for quite a long time, it was a comfort to be a part of an already existing online community, many of whom would be at the conference.  Now I can imagine all of your faces and voices as I read your online thoughts! Yay!

A particularly cool element of all that was having the opportunity to be a participant in a social media as music therapy advocacy tool panel, conceived by Kimberly Sena Moore, and joined by Michelle Erfurt, Michelle Strutzel, Matt Logan, Kat Fulton, Sarah Sendlbeck, Meryl Brown, Rachel Rambach, and Bill Matney. What a joy to be with this articulate and energetic group of professionals!

The renegade jam session (for those of us who can not function after 11 PM) was a lot of fun, and we sang and played our collective hearts out in a quieter corner of the giant hotel. 

As I gradually transition back to my usual hectic schedule (not to be confused with the completely crazy conference schedule! Yow!), I extend gratitude for the fact that I have a job and work with clients who, even after almost 24 years, challenge me to learn and grow and get better at serving them. And nowadays I get to add my supervisees to the list of folks who help me think and invite me to push the limits of my knowledge.

My co-workers at the developmental center also inspire my appreciation. We have struggled together to understand what might be going on when our clients try to convey their distress. At times we've sung and laughed and  at times we've cried together. We don't have an easy job, and, at this point, I don't think we'd really want one.

I'm thankful for the happiness that comes with playing music (either by myself or with other like-minded folks), and when people say, "wow, you're really lucky," I have to say, "Yes! Yes, I am!" 

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May you also feel lucky and fulfilled in your chosen profession!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Going South!

I know, I  know, where the heck have I been?! 

I'll tell you, it's been busy around here. Mostly, though, I've been preparing to present a five-hour CMTE at the national conference for music therapy in Atlanta next week! I haven't been able to attend a national conference in a few years now (not since 2006 when it was in Kansas City, MO!), so I must shout "hooray" that I'm finally able to go again (meaning, it's within driving distance). 

What will I be talking about (you may well be wondering)? "Developing the Art of Self-Reflection: Exploring the Relationship Between Therapists and Clients" (I mean, how would you recognize me if I didn't have a ridiculously long title?). 

I'm quite excited about it! From what I gather, so far anyway, there will be around ten people there, and that sounds like a very nicely sized group (although I imagine we could work just as well with a few more). I'm planning for a lot of interaction, music-making, and thinking (truly...who wants to sit for five straight hours and listen to me lecture? Well, lucky for you, I can't sit for that long these days). 

Anyway, here's the blurb. If you have any thoughts about the topic, do tell! If you end up coming to the presentation, I'm a fan of feedback!  I'm so looking forward to meeting those of you who are heading down to the conference (especially the lot of you I only know through online adventures). Safe travels!

Developing the Art of Self-Reflection: 
Exploring the Relationship Between Therapists and Clients

The relationship between therapists and their clients is an intimate one. When we add music, the level of intimacy increases. As with any relationship, as the level of intimacy increases, the levels of resistance, uncertainty, and investment also increase- on both the therapist's part as well as that of the client. One the one hand, we may put up unconscious barriers, preventing a deeper connection with our clients. On the other, we may become so merged as to be in danger of violating important therapeutic boundaries. As such, the music therapy relationship can become difficult to negotiate.

In this interactive workshop we will begin by defining countertransference. Using case examples, we will work toward an understanding of: What is it? Where does it come from? How does it affect therapy? How do we begin to identify and use countertransference in our work with clients?

Participants will then be invited to share some of the difficult aspects from their own work with particular clients that challenge them in some way. Through dialogue, journaling and music-making we will process and explore some of the following questions: What are some of the ways we use to avoid looking more deeply at some of the clinical challenges we face as professional music therapists? What are some of the beliefs and ideas we, consciously or unconsciously, hold about ourselves, about music therapy, about our clients? And how do these ideas and beliefs affect our work and our clients? Why are certain topics so difficult to bring up in sessions- even if we know our clients need us to do so? What is it about the topics? What is it about our beliefs and ideas that makes it scary? What kinds of messages are being communicated by us to our clients when we don't address difficult issues? 

Through these workshop experiences, participants will work toward developing the skill of self-reflection, using a variety of techniques to process thoughts and reactions that emerge in relationship to their clients. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

What do I (think I) know?

Gosh, it's been an absolute age since I posted. Ack! Hopefully you're all wondering what the heck is going on, and asking yourselves, "where in Pete has that girl been!?"

So, here's the scoop: this has been the summer of ailments (and, evidently, I forgot to mark it on my calendar). No, really. It's been a little bit ridiculous. 

Since April, I've caught two colds (I hardly ever get sick), one monster case of allergies that led to never-ending coughing and ended up requiring two asthma inhalers (I don't have asthma), and, just because life wasn't going to be complete without it, I've been limping (very painfully) around for four solid weeks with my backside, hip, thigh, and knee out of whack. 

Honestly! Is this truly necessary? 

I say all this to you, not just to whine and kvetch about it (because, I mean, who would I be without my whining and kvetching?), but because getting around with extreme pain (it's finally starting to settle down somewhat, thank goodness) has forced me into an awareness I've never had before.

I'm ashamed to admit to you how completely ignorant I've been of this fact: There are a lot of people walking around in constant and terrible pain. They're not complaining and carrying on (like I am). They just go about their business and do what they've got to do. In pain. 

It's one thing to get this on an intellectual level (and, of course, I've always understood this on an intellectual level), but that doesn't mean anything. 

Sure, I've seen my dear friend get to a point where she's had to walk around with a cane (and only for very short distances) because she has extremely painful knees. I always known that she's in pain most of the time, but until recently I'd only understood it on a peripheral level. 

Until I experienced what it's like to be absolutely unable to get from point A to point B (forget the fact that moving made me want to scream and/or cry)...I had no clue. 

Do I have a point I'm trying to make here? Well, yes, I think so.

I'm realizing (yet again) how important it is for me to question some of the things (maybe many of the things) I think I "know". Because a lot of the time...I really don't. Often, all I have is some vague idea in my mind about what someone's experience is- whether the person's in pain, has a serious illness, comes from a culture or ideology different from mine, has some sort of a label (whether s/he wants that label or not), is socially ostracized...The list goes on indefinitely, as you can imagine.

I am struck by how limited I am in my understanding of what any of these things actually mean in terms of a person's life and how it affects who the person is and how they relate to other people and to the world.

In short, I am, yet again, astonished by how much I just don't know. And, more to the point, how much I'm not even aware I don't know. And I have to ask myself: as a music therapist, what are the things I think I know? And how willing am I to find out my assumption(s) may be incorrect? 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Journal Prompt #5: A person of interest

Poet Elizabeth AlexanderImage by On Being via Flickr
...And are we not of interest to each other?

The very last line of Elizabeth Alexander's poem- to which I'd only been half listening as I prepared breakfast with the radio on- came into my consciousness in such a profound way that I literally tripped over the garbage can, knocking it over, on my way to the computer to go and find it and re-read the whole thing.   

And I again came to rest on the last line:

...and are we not of interest to each other?

How beautiful!

You are by now, I'm certain, well aware of my love of good questions. So, as you can imagine, on principle, I love Elizabeth Alexander's ideas about poetry and how it leads to inquiry. Here is what she had to say about the matter in the interview she did with Krista Tippett from On Being:

I was thinking about the act of asking real questions in poems as a kind of spiritual practice. I ask questions relatively often in poems and I ask them because I don't know the answer. And I ask them because I think that poems are fantastic spaces with which to arrive at real conundrum kinds of questions, to go as far down the road as you can of understanding something and then sometimes that road ends with a real question.

I wonder if one might describe the process of music therapy (and, indeed, maybe someone already has) as a form of collaborative poetry-making and inquiry- an effort to create an evolving piece of relational art- one that often ends with more questions than answers. And one that invites deep self-reflection and, as my mother (who is a poet) often points out, frequent editing. 

...and are we not of interest to each other?

Elizabeth Alexander elaborates:

[The question] ...to me isn't about, oh, you know, I like her shoes or ...he has a fascinating job. It's much deeper than that. Our human beings who are in community, do we call to each other? Do we heed each other? Do we want to know each other? And I think reaching across what can be a huge void between human beings.


As you consider your work as a music therapist (and as a participant in life), you might ask, not only do we interact with each other, but how do we interact with each other, who are we to each other, and in what ways are we with each other?

More questions to ponder: 
*Are my clients "of interest" to me? In what ways are my clients "of interest" to me? As in, what do I mean when I think of someone as being "of interest" to me? How do I define "interest"? Is it as "you're an interesting person"? Or is it deeper than that? And how deep am I willing to go?

*Are my clients "of interest" in terms of how I am defined when I am with them? Are they "of interest" in terms of: "This is who I think you are in relation to me"? In other words, is the "interest" defined largely by the roles we play? And how willing/comfortable am I to look beyond the assigned roles?

*Does being "of interest: mean that I know certain things about you as my client? And how does that affect the power dynamics in our relationship? On another level, what and how much am I willing to know about you? 

*What do I, as your music therapist, want you, the person called my client, to know about me? Are there things I wish you could know about me? And whose need am I meeting in wanting that?  

*What if our clients don't hold our interest? What then? 

My deepest thanks to Elizabeth Alexander for her inspiring poem and to Krista Tippett for the willingness to "go there" in her interviews! 

You can read the entire poem and learn more about Elizabeth Alexander and her books of poetry hereAnd you can listen to (or read) the entire conversation (and many other engaging interviews) with Krista Tippett here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Thank you!

I want to interrupt this (not so) regularly scheduled blog to thank you, kind readers! My follower list just hit the big 50! 

(And, with any luck, in five more years, so will I!)

Go 50Image via Wikipedia
Welcome to all of you, and thanks so much for supporting the Mindful Music Therapist!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The eyes have it

I was very conscious of my clients' eyes this past week. 

I'm not sure why I was struck more than usual this week (as opposed to most other weeks), but I noticed there was a lot of eye-contact (which you would kind of think wouldn't really be the case when working with folks who aren't usually all that comfortable with looking directly at people). Anyway.

Here's a summary of my, um, eye-catching (sorry) moments:

1. D stared at me for quite a while during his session. Really. I'd classify it as staring. Something was going on for him, which became even more apparent when he got up and pulled me to the Music Room door (which he has only done once or twice in the 13 years I've worked with him) and headed us back to the cottage. I found myself feeling uncertain as to what was going on with him. Was he excited? Angry? Attracted? Frustrated with me? When he decided to leave the session unexpectedly, I felt disappointed and a bit confused.

2. R looking at me rather intently and frequently today. This is very unusual for him, because he usually looks at my hands and at what I'm doing on the guitar. I have very little conscious memory of him ever even looking at my face! I was joking with one of the other music therapists at work that I must be doing one heck of a job. After working together for almost 23 years (seriously), R finally approaches me and greets me when I arrive in his home. Maybe this is an extension of that?

3. W has been expressing some intense feelings toward me. I have, of course, been responding with "that's not our relationship." During a recent session, I said to him, "you know, it seems as if I'm really frustrating you a great deal lately."  He responded by looking at me. Very. Pointedly. [Insert slight squirm here.] And then he left his session early also. But this time, aside from feeling a bit confused, I also felt (yes) frustrated. ("Take that, you blasted music therapist!")

4. V greeted me today by scooting over to me, looking me in the eye, and taking both of my hands in hers when I arrived in her group. This, I must say, was a way friendlier "hello"  than she had been using when I showed up over the past three weeks! (Observe, to your right, the fascinating and unusual unhappy face she somehow managed- without even intending it- to create on my arm with her nails...isn't that wild?) (And, no, don't worry. I'm fine.)

It certainly looks as if the eyes have it this week! (Sorry, again, for the dreadful string of puns.) (Really, I can't help it.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Journal Prompt #4- Uncertainty

I don't knowImage by cowbite via FlickrOne of the hardest aspects of being a music therapist, at least for me, has been working to come to terms with the experience of uncertainty as I work with clients. I'm sure this won't come as a surprise to you, because I've written about it a number of times (here, here, and here- to name a few).

I think part of what makes it difficult to sit with the sense of "um, I'm not sure what's going on here" is this mythology we tend to buy into as music therapists (I guess as any kind of therapists, really) that tells us "you must always know what's going on with your clients and have the perfect intervention and/or response to address it."   

Even after doing this for 24 years, there's still a nagging sense of "I should know" in the back of my mind- even though I know (intellectually anyway) that I don't have to know, and even though I'm well aware my clients aren't always ready for me to know (or aren't ready to know for themselves), and even though I realize it's just a matter of sitting with the feeling and trusting the process.  

I understand that some of my uncertainty comes from the fact that I work with people who don't use the usual means of communication or ways of relating to people. Using a process-oriented approach (and not a product-oriented one) also increases the likelihood that I won't always know what's going on in my sessions. 

And, really, I'm okay with all of that. I'm just...very aware (shall we say) of a feeling of "hmm" when I'm faced with a situation and I'm not sure how to proceed. 

So, lovely readers, I invite you to join me in looking at this part of our work as you journal.

-Do you allow for a bit of uncertainty as a part of your music therapy practice? If you do, in what ways? If you don't, why not? 

-How do you approach uncertainty when it comes up in your work as a music therapist? Do you power through it on your own? Do you seek supervision or consultation? What kinds of questions do you ask yourself?

-How do your beliefs about what it means to be a "good music therapist" affect the way you deal with uncertainty? What does it mean about you, about your abilities as a music therapist, about how people might view the field of music therapy to "not know" what to do or how to approach a therapy situation? 

-What if the "perfect" song or intervention isn't coming to you and you're in the middle of a session? 

-What are some of the things you're doing in your music therapy practice that help you avoid the experience of uncertainty? How does that affect the therapy relationship? What might you be communicating to your clients?

I'd love to hear your thoughts about uncertainty (written out, sung, played as a piece of music, acted out as a play, whatever works for you), so please share them freely. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Holding on to our clients' stuff

I seem to be slowly amassing a little pile of stuff from RD (the young man who makes sure I take a little bit of his space along with me when I leave his cottage). 

FIrst it was the purple battery cover for something along with the red disc-ish thing. 

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I had to ask one of the other music therapists (who also works in that cottage) to take back the two air hockey strikers that he'd put in my instrument box . I figured they'd need them if anyone wanted to play air hockey. (Uh-oh, I think I just realized what that red disc-ish thing is- it's probably the puck! Oops! Guess I'd better get that back to the cottage as well. The strikers aren't going to be of much use if there's nothing to strike. Ulk.)

Then last Saturday he put in two dominoes, and today it was a big yellow wooden bead.

Today he used the cabasa and the kalimba, and he put them back in the instrument box (not under the couch or on top of a very high cupboard) (thank God). 

I'm excited to say his sessions are lasting the full forty-five minutes these days (as opposed to ending abruptly after a few minutes, which was the case for quite a while). I think acknowledging his need to know what to expect and saying out loud that I don't tend to tell people what to do in music therapy (unless some specific limit needs to be set) really helped him. Ironically, I think it let him know, well, what to expect. Now he doesn't seem to feel as anxious when he comes to his sessions. 

I mentioned, again, to RD I thought it was interesting to keep finding little objects from his space tucked away in mine. And I asked if maybe it was because a part of him was concerned as to whether or not I'd remember him when we ended the session. 

True, there wasn't any earth-shatteringly clear response or anything, but I figure if I keep commenting about it and pondering the situation with him, letting him know I'm curious and want to understand him better...he'll find a way to tell me what he needs me to know. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Music and countertransference

If you're a person who has been reading this blog, then you know I make liberal use of songs that emerge as a part of music therapy sessions (a couple of other examples can be found here and here). The way I think of these countertransference songs is as a form of unconscious communication that's going on between therapist and client- the stuff that's not being said.

Obviously, since the vast majority of my clients don't use speech, it would stand to reason that these songs are a particularly helpful (and necessary) aspect of the work. 

So, I've been thinking a lot about one of my clients who has been falling asleep in his sessions lately. He gets tired from his medications, I think, but he also doesn't tend to sleep particularly well (a lot of my clients don't). 

At any rate, it seemed to me as if there was more to it than just being tired (I'll explain in a second). I mean, sometimes he'd look fairly wakeful, want to come for his session, get to the room, go lie on the couch (I know, I know, how Freudian can you get?) and suddenly he was exhausted. 

Hey, man. I know how it goes. I've been there before when there's stuff I'm having a hard time looking at- I start journaling about some difficult issue, and suddenly...I need a nap. I get it.

Anyway, here's something that completely fascinated me about our sessions: for the longest time, whenever I played an improvisation in his sessions, I'd think, "Wow! That was gorgeous! I must write down some of those chords, because they'd be great to play around with when I'm writing a song!" And I'd quickly write down the chords, and then, after the session, I'd play them, and what the hey? They never sounded quite the same after my client left. They were nice, but there was something...missing, and it just...didn't sound right. 

After a while of this unusual musical situation happening over and over and over (hey- these things take time!) I started to wonder, "What is this about? Why the heck is this happening?" And I realized this was some kind of countertransference, so I started to talk about it with my client, trying to enlist his assistance in figuring out what he might be needing me to hear (through the music that was only beautiful during our sessions but never afterward). 

I've spent the last couple of months with the following working hypotheses: 
1) Maybe he feels like he has to put on a nice, happy face because somehow he's gotten the idea that this is what people in his life want from him (can't imagine where he could possibly have gotten that message).

2) Maybe he only feels as if he's "beautiful" when he's in music therapy.

Of course, I could be wrong about all of it, but these are what I started working with and bringing up in sessions. So, I started talking about this with him. And the more I talked about this, the more he'd get to snoozing! 

Think I hit a nerve? I think so.

As you can imagine, he and I have been stumbling along now, and somewhere back in May, we were in a session together, and I suddenly heard the lyrics of this song (Joni Mitchell's "Trouble Child") enter my mind. And, as always, as I mentally sang through the song, I thought, "Hunh! This is worth giving a joint listen." 

Interestingly, it's taken a while for us to actually get through the whole song in a session (did I mention he keeps falling asleep?). And as soon as I share the lyrics with you, you'll see why. 

[I debated whether to use my version of the song or the original, and I opted for mine- but linked Joni's version- because it's about the therapy and the use of songs to have a deeper understanding of our clients. I'd add a lot of disclaimers, but they're not going to be of much  use to any of us, so here it is. I had to cut out all of my blabbering because I talked for too long, so that's why it sounds as if I started in mid-sentence.]

Trouble Child
(Words and Music by Joni Mitchell, Copyright 1973 and 1974 Crazy Crow Music)

Up in the sterilized room where they let you be lazy,
Knowin' your attitude's all wrong, and you gotta change and it's not easy.
Dragon's shinin' with all values known,
Dazzlin' you, keepin' you from your own,
Where is the lion in you to defy him when you're this weak and this spacey?

So what are you gonna do about it, you can't live life, and you can't leave it.
Advice and religion you can't take it, you can't seem to believe it.
The peacock is afraid to parade, you're under the thumb of a maid.
And you really can't give love in this condition, still you know how you need it.

They open and close you, then they talk like they know you, they don't know you.
They're friends and they're foes too, 
Trouble child, breakin' like the waves at Malibu.

So why does it come as such a shock to know you really have no one,
Only a river of changin' faces lookin' for an ocean.
They trickle through your leaky plans, 
Another dream over the dam,
And you're lyin' in some room feelin' like your right to be human is goin' over too.

But some are gonna knock you and some'll try and clock you,
You know, it's really hard to talk sense to you,
Trouble child, breakin' like the waves at Malibu.

Okay. First of all, Joni Mitchell is...brilliant! (By the way, go and listen to her singing this song. I seriously don't do it justice.) Second, oh my God! Look. At. These. Lyrics! The experience of a man living in an institution? With a serious reputation for having been a major bad-ass in his younger days? 

I can't say it enough times- I marvel, again and again, at the amazing ways we human beings find to communicate with each other!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Journal Prompt #3 (When music therapists go bad)

I used to have Super Human PowersImage by Esparta via FlickrYesterday, I felt like a bad therapist. 

I was tired from awful allergies (and the ends of a lingering cold), and I didn't feel great physically (and, let me tell you, there was some serious whining going on). And, yeah, okay, the truth is I just plain started out the day with an attitude. 

But I figured, "Come on, Roia! It's Saturday, you only have three sessions with three different guys. They're good guys. You really like working with them. It'll be fine. Stop your kvetching, and go do your sessions and you and your aches and pains will survive." 

Great. Pep talk done. Let's do it!

Maybe it was because it was a holiday weekend (with little hope of their seeing family members), maybe it was that it was a fairly nice day outside and they were all stuck indoors, maybe they all had allergies, maybe they thought my sunscreen smelled weird...I don't know what it was!  But my clients weren't exactly in jovial moods either. 


There we all were with our collective attitudes in the various sessions, and there I was just...not making sense, not saying or doing anything particularly- I don't know- therapeutic. I found myself wondering why the heck I was saying what I was saying.

And all I could think was "what is with you today, woman?"

I was so not being a shining example of music therapy and all the fabulosity that goes with it. 

Yes, I know that I probably wasn't as awful as I felt  I was being. And, yes, I realize that it's all "grist for the mill" (as my clinical supervisor has always said), and it's all part of a much larger process/context. And, sure, it's true that even a bad day of music therapy (when you live in an institution) is probably not as bad as all that, but I like my clients. I want to do right by them, and I felt kind of badly that I was less present than I would have preferred. 

And I was also annoyed that they were (at least in my perception of things) making me work so damned hard! Waaah! [We're whining...we're whining...]


So, perhaps you can journal (or sing, or play, or create some form of art, or develop your own whining rant) about a day (or, heck, a week or a month) when you felt as if you were having a hard time being the kind of  music therapist you like to think you are.

What are some of the idea(l)s/myths you have about who/how you "should" be as a music therapist? 

What are some of the idea(l)s/myths you hold in your mind about who your clients "should" be and how they should act/respond/deal with stuff when they're in music therapy with you?

And how do all these idea(l)s and myths affect how therapy goes some days? And how do you cope with days when you feel as if you are less than stellar?

Bring it on, my fellow bloggies!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's a (musical) process

As I thought further about Video Journal #1 I did some writing about it and this is the song that emerged from that bit of processing. 

I think I said everything else I needed to say on the actual video. 

I do, however, want to reiterate the fact that using music to process my sessions has been incredibly useful in terms of trying to understand what may be going on for the folks I see for music therapy. Since they aren't able to use speech (and even if they were, none of us are always completely aware of why we feel out of sorts, and that's what we have our therapists for), I try to use the countertransference material so that I have better questions to ask.

Here, as promised, are the lyrics (with my further hypotheses thrown in for good measure in between things). (Apparently I didn't say everything I had to say on the video.) (Oy.) Sorry if it gets a bit difficult to read:

Blowin' In the Wind 
(Thank you, Bob Dylan!)

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?
     (So much in just the first line alone! Many of the initial countertransference songs with this particular person were songs sung by girls- not just women, girls. And I have had the sense, off and on, that trying to develop an identity as a man has been an issue for him. Living in an institution, not using speech to communicate, and being seen as a disabled person first doesn't exactly  enhance one's sense of self much either.)
Yes, 'n', how many seas must a white dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly before they're forever banned? 
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.
     (This may or may not be stretching it a bit, but I wonder if he feels as if he's "blowin' in the wind" without a real sense of direction/meaning/purpose in his life.) 

How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky? 
     (Maybe this means something and maybe not, but his days are spent in a room that doesn't have any windows at eye level, and the windows that are there are, ironically, very high up and next to the very high ceiling.)
Yes, 'n' how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
     (There's that whole sense of futility there and feeling unacknowledged and frustrated.)
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take 'til he knows that too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?
Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free?
     (I'm sure this line speaks- loudly- for itself, but it certainly connects to the feeling of being bound and stuck.)
Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn't see?
     (I don't know about any of you, but this line always makes me sad, and it is particularly poignant in this context.)
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind.
     (Oh, I just realized that one of the struggles I've had in this man's sessions is this sense of "I don't know" and perpetual uncertainty. The answer, indeed, seems elusive!)

The answer is blowin' in the wind. 
One last thought: I'm always amazed at how clearly my clients are able to convey to me when I am (finally) on the right track. There is such a sense of discomfort within me until I'm finally able to process (or at least start to make sense of) the feelings that come up as a result of projective identification. Once the processed material is shared with my client, and the response seems to be, "yes, you're understanding me," I experience a literal internal shift, and the discomfort eases almost immediately. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Video journal #1 (So THAT's what Countertransference Sounds Like)

Seriously. What is with me and all this numbering? 


With all this conversation about trying different forms of journaling (okay, maybe there wasn't any actual conversation, but it's definitely something that's been on my mind), I decided I wanted to try a video journal. So I did an improvisation after a session. Here's what that looked/sounded like: 

After I listened to it, it occurred to me that it sounded sad and sort of poignant. I was struck by how extremely consonant it was as well. I didn't think it would be. I guess the point is that maybe on some level I did know what might have been going on in the session, but it just hadn't become conscious yet. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Journal Prompt #2 (Who are you again?)

A photo of The Thinker by Rodin located at the...Image via WikipediaWow! First, let me thank all of you who were kind enough to join me in this path of self-reflection and exploration! It has been so neat to hear from you and read your thoughts and responses. I've truly been honored that you've taken the time to share your experiences, and I'm excited to hear/read/see more as we progress!

For my part, I have started to make short videos after some of my sessions (particularly with clients who challenge me or about whom I find I have a lot of feelings) in which I share my thoughts and reactions regarding the therapy experience on that particular day and then play a musical improvisation describing what it was like to be in the session.

It has been interesting for me to hear how being with different clients "sounds" (at least from my own musically and verbally expressed point of view). Of course, it's hard not to hear my own issues and musical patterns creeping into the music (oh, yeah, therapy 'til I'm dead, baby). 

I'm sort of wanting to share some of the videos, but I want to be sure I'm not violating any ethical rules and/or regulations in order to do so.

Meanwhile, it got me to thinking about Journal Prompt #2:

For most of us, during our busy weeks, we see lots of clients. And there are always the people we work with who stay with us and stick in our minds. 

But there are also clients we completely forget until we see them the next week.
And I started to wonder, why?

Who am I forgetting? Do I forget this person/group all the time? Or is there something going on with this particular client/group that I just want to avoid? Or that I don't like dealing with for some reason? 

What is this person triggering within me? Is it something about this person? Or is something going on with me? Why is it this person/group that I forget?

What is it about this person that feels "forgettable" to me? What might the fact that I'm forgetting this person/group be helping me know/learn/wonder about how this person perceive(s) him/herself? 

How does my forgetting this person/group have meaning in the context of this individual/group's life?


As you can (plainly) see, it was kind of difficult for me to formulate the questions, but, for me anyway, that's part of the process- figuring out better questions to ask myself. If you come up with a better question to ask (or simply find a better way to word the questions I already tried to ask), do tell.

As always, if you feel comfortable sharing, you're welcome to use the comments section to offer your thoughts or (if you blog) post a link to your blog post or You Tube video. Perhaps you might want to play contrasting musical portraits (a Ken Bruscia suggestion) of a client you think of often and a client you tend to forget, and either video or audio tape the improvisations. Or write a song about a client you've forgotten and share it with us. 

I so look forward to your latest installments!