Monday, April 7, 2014

5 Reasons Why You Need To Process in Music Therapy

I was off listening to a terrific podcast on processing over at the Music Therapy Round Table (and I highly recommend you go over and give them a good, solid listen). Well, I wanted to make a comment, but it turned out to be, like, six paragraphs, so, um, I figured I'd better head back to my own blog home and write it all out here and link it back to the hardworking Round Table folks: Kimberly Sena Moore, Rachel Rambach, Michelle Erfurt, and Matt Logan

As Michelle mentioned (either in the Round Table podcast or the Music Therapy Pro podcast), this business of processing (especially in clinical supervision) is kind of my "thing" (which makes it all sound a little...suspect) (but, really, it's not). I mean, if we're going to be honest (and I think we must), this whole blog is about me processing my experiences as a music therapist. 

I'm determined (determined, I say!) to convince the  music therapy world that we need to make processing a regular part of our work routine. And, yes, I'm sure I've probably said all this before, but I'm saying it again. And this time I'm going to try to be more succinct (stop snickering, I can do this). Okay. Here goes:

5 Reasons Why You Need to Process in Music Therapy:   

1. Processing helps you move your work to a deeper level.
Put simply: processing helps you move beyond observation to trying to understand what you’re seeing, experiencing, hearing, noticing in a session. Matt Logan wisely pointed out that a part of processing is looking at the relationships between the therapist, the client(s) and the music. It's so easy to get caught up in “what do I do? What should I do next?” and completely forget to look at what’s there in the session in a deeper way.

 2. It helps you gain a better understanding of what you're doing and why. 
Thinking through your sessions and trying to understand what happened in your sessions helps you get a stronger grip on the ever-present question:
 What is music therapy?
The longer you practice, the more your understanding of the work you do evolves and your answers to that question change and grow more meaningful. Processing asks you to consider: what is the role of music in my work? What is therapy? Who are the people I'm supporting? 
The more deeply you understand your work the better able you are to communicate why a client, a facility, an organization, a state, a country, the world needs music therapy.  

3. We all have feelings about our clients, and it's important to consider their impact on the therapy process. 
You have feelings about your clients, I have feelings about my clients. It's a normal part of therapy called countertransference. It doesn't matter who you work with (infants right on up through elders) and it doesn't matter how long you've been working and it doesn't even matter what approach you use. It's all part of the process. 
And the things is: just because you aren't necessarily having strong feelings or reactions you might think of as being "negative" (sad, angry, frustrated) it doesn't mean that your feelings aren't getting in the way of your clients' growth. Of course, I'm not saying that they are - just inviting your awareness that they have the potential to do so. 
I'll use myself as an example:
When I pause and reflect on the folks who are in my caseload, I notice there are some clients who stick with me all the time, because the work with them is difficult (or because they appeal to me in some particular way), there are some folks who I avoid thinking about, some who I forget about entirely, and some whose sessions I truly enjoy. 
Processing helps me step back and look at the larger picture of what’s happening. Otherwise, I can easily get bogged down in the "session notes version" of things (you know...what happened first, then what happened) and never move beyond it. 
Processing means I start to be curious and ask questions: 
Hm, why do some of my clients appeal to me more than others? Why do some not? What is it about some people that makes me completely forget about them until I see them in a session? Why is a particular client frustrating me so much? What's my role in this? Is s/he reminding me of someone else in my life? Is my complete joy in working with a particular group of clients making it hard for them to explore feelings of anger they may be feeling toward me (whether it's about me or not)? Is my discomfort about a specific topic obvious to my clients to the point that they're they avoiding looking at it to "please" or protect me

4. Processing helps you realize that music therapy doesn’t usually happen in one single session 
Well, okay, depending on where you provide services, sometimes it does. In general, though, processing helps you start to put things together (from one session to the next, over a period of time of working with someone, etc.). If you’re someone who tends to use an activity/therapeutic music experience approach, it’s important to think about what’s going on from moment to moment in a session that you might not have thought to look at. A process paper can help you do this and encourages you to ask questions, such as:
What happened? What patterns am I noticing in our sessions?  Then you move on to: What was I hoping to do with this particular person/group? How did it go? What do I think about that? 

5. Processing with a clinical supervisor helps you see your blindspots.
You don’t see your blindspots. That’s why they’re called blindspots. You don’t know what you don’t know! And, like anybody else, you don’t think to ask yourself something you wouldn’t have thought or known to ask yourself.
And that's okay! That's why there's such a thing called professional clinical supervision!  Yaaay!
Processing with a clinical supervisor helps you begin to see things you might not have looked at before. It doesn't mean you're a bad therapist. It just means that having an extra set of eyes and ears (who happen to have more experience) will help you think about things you hadn't thought to think about before. (Shout out to Michelle Erfurt for your great point that you didn’t really look at stuff to the extent you did until you had supervision!)

So, lovely music therapists: What new and unexpected thoughts are you thinking about your clients and about your work?