Sunday, April 21, 2013

Well, what do you know?

I was minding my own business, journaling away last Sunday morning, listening to (yet another excellent episode of) On Being, where Krista Tippett was interviewing Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist. The aspect of their conversation that caught my attention was this comment: 
Mysteries are what it's all about. In fact, not knowing is much more exciting than knowing, right? Because it means there's much more to learn. The search is often much more exciting than the finding. Mysteries are what drive us as human beings. 
He extended the idea by noting:
One of the values of science is to make us uncomfortable. Somehow that's supposed to be a bad thing for many people, being uncomfortable. Being uncomfortable is a good thing because it forces you to reassess your place in the cosmos. And being too comfortable means you've become complacent and you stop thinking. 
As I listened to him I realized something kind of interesting: I think not knowing is what has kept me passionately in this field for so long. 

Think about it a second. 

When we think we know (the answer, what's going on, what someone's problem is, how things should look, who someone should be, and so on and so forth) we are no longer learning, no longer curious. We stop at the surface, and, because we know then we presume there's nothing else to think about or to find out.

When we're new professionals we either think we know or we think we're expected to know most of what there is to know about music therapy. What we often don't realize is that all we know are the very basics- that there's a whole world of knowing we haven't even begun to come in contact with yet!

It took me a lot of years (and a lot of clinical supervision) to finally understand that my real job as a music therapist is to go out there and ask my clients what they need me to know and learn in order to better support them. 

So many times in my younger (pre-clinical supervision) music therapy days I went into sessions knowing what needed to be done to "help" my clients. I didn't ask, I wasn't curious about what was going on or why my clients might need to be or do things the way they were being or doing things. They were disabled. There was a list of things I knew about disabled people. There was a list of ways music was supposed to "help" disabled people. 

So I went in with my music therapy interventions, applied them, and waited for the activities to work. This is what I was taught (or at least this is what I understood of what I was taught). And when my interventions didn't work I was frustrated with my clients and wondered, "what the hell? Why isn't this working? This is what I was told to do!"

Somehow I had inadvertently stepped into the medical model of music therapy: "Here are the symptoms associated with a particular population of people. Liberally apply music therapy activities to alleviate said symptoms and to increase skills. Music is, after all, intrinsically reinforcing. Success." 

In other words, I'd go into sessions with the attitude of "I know what the problem is, and I know the solution." Except that I wasn't having a lot of success.

Finally I got myself some clinical supervision, and I learned about process-oriented, relationally-based music therapy. But when I stopped doing activities and began to use an improvisational approach, I was terrified! I had no idea what to do- ever. I was convinced I'd failed as a music therapist, because I didn't know anything any more! 

Add to that fact that I work in an institution, and institutions are notoriously entrenched in the all-knowing medical and behavioral model of understanding people. Sitting there quietly with someone (because I didn't always know what to do) and singing about what that person was doing or what I thought it might be about (as opposed to gathering everyone in a circle- or trying to- and forcing them to play instruments with hand-over-hand assistance) was an open invitation to criticism and "why are you just sitting there doing nothing, Roia?" 

But I trusted my clinical supervisor who told me "trust the process". 

As time went on, I discovered the joy in finding out who my clients actually were and began to appreciate the opportunity to get to know them in a more authentic and human way. I got more comfortable with the idea of going into a session and not knowing - not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing (yet) the person in front of me, not knowing exactly what music would be needed that day, not knowing if I was hearing my client properly, not knowing if what I offered was going to be accepted or even make sense. 

And that engaged me in the work of becoming and being a music therapist like nothing ever had! I began to understand music therapy from a whole new perspective: 

We are artists, and we are scientists, and art and science are not about knowing. They're about trying something out (an idea, a hypothesis, some direction) and discovering, or messing up, making mistakes, and figuring out better questions to ask. They're about not knowing, about wondering and curiosity, and finding out what we don't realize we don't know

That's amazing to me! And waking up every morning with the thought, "I wonder what will happen today with my clients," and being completely curious excited about that, is what drives my passion for music therapy. Even after doing this for 26 years!

To borrow from Lawrence Krauss again:
In fact, what's really beautiful is every time we make a discovery in science, we end up having more questions than answers.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A book chapter, a presentation, and an interview

Whew! What a fascinating and busy few months it's been! 

Aside from my usual and intense immersion in work, there have been some nifty things happening. Here's what's been up:

First, I am extremely honored to be a part of a new book, edited by Sue Hadley, who is one of the people I greatly appreciate and admire, because she's willing to talk about the stuff nobody else talks about. This time she's talking about race and culture in terms of how it's experienced by music therapists. Here's the description of the book from Barcelona Publishers:
Experiencing Race as a Music Therapist: Personal Narratives is a compilation of critically engaging narratives that grew out of conversations with 17 music therapists living in different parts of the world, from various “racial” groups, about their experiences of their racialized identities in the therapy setting. The music therapists describe the raced and cultural contexts in which they were born and describe the racial demographics of the places they have lived at various times in their lives. The countries in which the individual music therapists spent their formative years include Australia, Canada, Iran, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, with many of them also having traveled to other countries. The music therapists discussed their specific experiences of their racialized identities when they were studying music therapy and how they experienced their racialized identities in their professional lives. Many of them also described the differences they were aware of in terms of how they experienced themselves as raced or how they experienced the therapeutic relationship when they were working with people of their own “race” compared with working with people who were from a different “race.” From these narratives, we can see that our life experiences shape how we understand ourselves and others, our assumptions and biases, and the effort with which we form relationships with different groups of people. The music therapists in this book have shared their experiences in the hope that we can learn how to sit in our discomfort, without judgment, lowering our defenses, in order to learn more about ourselves and others, so that we can deepen our understandings and our relationships across racialized lines.

I've been slowly reading through the narratives, and they are engaging and thought-provoking. I encourage you to check out this book. It is a wonderful invitation to deeper reflection and conversation about a topic that does not generally come up in our field.

Second, I spent a lot of time trying to organize a presentation I did for the most recent Mid-Atlantic Regional music therapy conference, "Countertransference Songs: Another Way to Listen" (you know- countertransference- one of my favorite topics!). Here is how I described the session:

Far from simply being a means by which to convey skills and the general expression of feelings, music can be used on another level to better understand our clients- especially those who don’t use speech as their main communication modality. Paying attention to the music that emerges in sessions- for example, the sounds we typically use in response to particular clients, or songs that suddenly pop into our minds as we work intensely with someone - can offer us another avenue by which to understand what is going on within the therapy relationship.

Starting from the premise that the therapy relationship is the healing element, the focus and, more significantly, the work of dynamically oriented music therapy is to look at and explore the relationships that develop between the therapist, client and music.

As active participants in the therapeutic relationship, music therapists experience a range of countertransference responses when working with clients, some of which are explored in supervision and some in personal therapy. In this presentation we will start  from the assumption that countertransference includes all of the feelings, reactions, fantasies, thoughts and ideas the therapist experiences in relation to clients, either in response to how a client/group is perceiving him/her, or based on the therapist’s own personal history. Of course, one of the ways countertransference may be expressed within a music therapy relationship is through the music.

Two case studies will be presented, the first of which will describe how musical countertransference became apparent within the context of the type of music improvised in a client’s sessions. The second will follow a lengthy series of countertransference-generated songs that emerged as a part of the therapy relationship. In both cases, exploring the therapist’s musical responses moved the therapeutic process toward deeper understanding of the clients’ internal worlds.

I actually only ended up presenting one case study (since it had all the elements I described). The biggest challenge was trying distill many years worth of therapy (and tons and tons of examples) into 90 minutes! 

As often happens, in the process of reviewing the (volumes of) notes and the songs and the music that came out of this man's sessions, I gained a lot of insight into some of the ways my countertransference reactions caused me to miss some aspects of what may have been going on with him at various points in the therapy. 

Honestly, there was just so much, and it's such a complex topic, I'm wanting to present this material again within a longer context (meaning, maybe a CMTE proposal is in order). 

Meanwhile, the third exciting thing was being a guest on the music therapy world's answer to The View- yes, I got to chat with the lovely ladies of The Music Therapy Roundtable! I mean, look! They even have their very own mug (and, see, they sent me one too). How cool! Heck, how organized! 

I got to blather on and on with Rachel Rambach (of Listen & Learn Music fame) and Michelle Erfurt (the original Boom Tote designer herself!) - their third partner, Kimberly Sena Moore was in transit so she couldn't join us - about one of my other favorite topics: professional clinical supervision! And you'll be thrilled (I'm sure) to know that I discovered I have a shocking tendency to rely on the word "um" while being interviewed. Oy.

And, if you've taken it to the next level and you're a Music Therapy Pro subscriber, you can listen to yet more of my incessant chatter on their Pro podcast. 

So that's what's been happening in my land. I'd love to hear what's going on in yours!