Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who's in charge here?

I realize this is going to sound like I'm ranting. And not only that, I'm fairly certain I'm going to sound judgmental. And you know what? Maybe I am. This issue is so profoundly important that I think it deserves a bit of a rant, so I'm going to ask you to bear with me today, because this is serious.

It's not exactly news to anyone that I work with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities (many of whom also happen to have autism and many of whom do not use speech). When I'm talking about clients (below), I mean it to apply not only to doing music therapy with folks who have a whole bunch of labels, but I'm talking about working as a music therapist in general.

So, why am I carrying on? Let us commence with the rant now, shall we?

I have an important question I want us to consider: Is it our clients' jobs to listen to us? Or is it our job to listen to our clients?

I ask this, because I've been noticing what seems to be a tendency in music therapists to go in to a new session and expect their clients who have severe disabilities to just do what they ask them to do. As in, "here are the planned activities/events, and here's what I think you ought to do. Your job, client of mine, is to perform these tasks/activities. And my job is to get you to do that. Period."

Well. Okay...but...

Let's pause a second and think: whose need are we here to meet?

If we want to teach our clients to be better listeners, are we modeling that by listening to them? If we want to help our clients to be be better at paying attention, how willing are we to pay attention to them? If we want people with significant disabilities to engage with us, what steps are we going to take in order to engage on their terms? 

If we can't understand the language someone is speaking (particularly if their language does not contain words), are we truly serving that person when we expect him/her to do what we ask before we even make the effort to try to learn about who they are?

Again I ask the question that my college music therapy professor asked us all the time: whose need are we here to meet? And is that need best met by our coming to our clients in a music therapy session and expecting that they will do what we'd like them to do? 

Or is that need best met by asking that person to help us learn about who they are (even if they don't use speech to say it) and then creating the musical space within which our client can find a way to communicate and then making a point of hearing it?

We are music therapists. Let us honor that fact and work hard to develop skill in the art of listening. 

Let me end by saying this: when we work with folks who confuse us (and even if we think we know what's going on), the first place to start- always, always, always!- is by paying close attention and listening as hard as we can! 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Can I get a witness?

Maddeningly, I managed to catch a cold the minute I returned to work. Well, I suppose it has to happen once in a while. As such, I've spent the last two days mostly napping and reading (and, of course, feeling guilty about missing work) (so much for my "perfect music therapist" fantasy) (ahem).

So, while I'm sneezing away here, I figure it's a good a time as any to post an update.

Update #1: The two taboo topics presentations seemed to go fairly well. There was a lot of dialogue, and a couple of people came up to me afterward and told me they had continued the conversation (some from last year) at their workplaces (which is very cool). 

Update #2: I submitted a proposal to do the CMTE (the one I just did at the Mid-Atlantic Regional conference) at the national conference (that would be for the American Music Therapy Association). I changed the title though (just the title). I proposed it as "Developing the Art of Self-Reflection: Exploring the Relationship Between Therapists and Clients". We shall see what happens. 

Update #3: I'm in the process of organizing myself (a task, I admit) so I can put a goodly portion of the work I did on the CMTE into a book (or a monograph of some sort).  Why am I telling you this (you may well be asking)? Because now that I've put it out into the blogosphere, I'll be forced to get on with it and do it! 

Update #4: I had a very touching experience (when I got back to work) with a small group of women who usually react to my absences by being quite challenging and doing a lot of testing and such. This time around, when I showed up on Monday, they all gathered closely around me while I sang "hello" to them. It was so sweet! And...

Update #5: ...the whole session was made even more phenomenal by the fact that their staff person (when approached by a client from another group who wanted to come and sing with us) very beautifully and kindly explained to her, "It's really nice that you want to come and sing, but this is a music therapy group, and Roia is working specifically with the ladies in this group on goals and stuff. She'll be here on Thursday to do the singing group, and you can go join her then." Sproing!!! Somebody shout "amen!" because that was probably one of the most respectful moments I've had in my career as a music therapist! I am so sending her boss a  happy note of "check out what your cool staff person said!"

I think that's pretty much the story so far. It was a good conference, I must say. It was particularly lovely to put some faces to names I know via Twitter and the music therapy list serv. And there were some really excellent and thought-provoking presentations. Another delight was gathering with music therapy colleagues and students to just play music togehter. Of course, staying up way too late probably contributed to my ending up catching a cold, but it was worth it.