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] 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.