Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why it was hard for me to participate in this year's social media advocacy month

One of the things that doesn't get talked about enough when you're on your way to becoming a music therapist is how deflating it can be to have to define, to defend, to prove your work almost every single day for the rest of your music therapy life.

I need to admit to you (because I think it's important to say it out loud, because I truly believe that looking at the challenges means finding a way to get through them or at least come to terms with them): I am weary - bone weary - of advocating for music therapy right now. Will I still do it? Yes, probably I will. Do I still believe in what I do? Absolutely! Do I think I make a difference in my clients' lives? God, I hope so! I know they make a difference in mine. Am I still learning about music therapy? Always. 

But am I sick to death of explaining and re-explaining, and re-re-explaining what I do to people who already "know" what I do? Who incessantly belittle and demean my work (and, by extension, my clients' efforts)? Who still, after 27 years of this, see me as "the entertainment," treating me like a radio that nobody's really listening to anyway? Damn skippy! 

Today's comment: "No offense or anything, Roia, but I think having gross motor and music out at the pool is more beneficial for the guys than just listening to music with you..." (hmm, now how could that possibly be offensive to me?). This came from a co-worker who arrives in the middle of our Community Music Group, starts yelling out names (with a quick "oh, sorry, Roia"), bustling people into coats, and taking out the majority of the group to go to another activity. Nice.

I've had bosses who've said (and I'm quoting here), "Roia, I honestly don't see how what you do is any different from someone putting a CD in a CD player," interrupting my invitation to come and observe a session with "I'm afraid we're just going to have to agree to disagree, because we have different views on this." I guess getting that Master's degree was an insane waste of time, money, and effort. Oh, and probably the twenty years of paying for clinical supervision (and a whole lot of other trainings outside of music therapy), learning everything I could about disabilities and psychotherapy and figuring out ways to make sense of all of this so I can offer my clients a form of music therapy that hardly anybody else really does...that was probably a bit of overkill.

It's hard when many of your professional colleagues think that all you're doing is "playing nice music for people." It's hard to listen to support staff tell you they don't like the music you're playing and that you're not doing music therapy "right."

The bottom line here is this: if you're going to be a music therapist (and I really want you to be), it's important to love what you do and believe in what you're providing to your clients with every fiber in your body. It's important to make music, to get clinical supervision, to get your own therapy, to have an amazing support system of people who love, respect and believe in you and in the work that you do. Because you will run into these people. And you're good and likely to feel squashed sometimes.

Being a music therapist is hard work, especially when you're trying to find a way to musically sit with people who are struggling, whose lives aren't going the way they wish they would, who are in pain, who are frightened, who throw instruments at you, who scratch your face, who are disorganized, who feel powerless, who are grieving, who are dying....All of this is hard to do. But we do it, because we know - deep in our souls we know - that the experience of being together in music means something, the musical and human relationships we painstakingly develop with people who've had chronic trauma, who've been discriminated against in every way imaginable (and in many ways we don't even have a clue about) means something.

So what the heck am I saying anyway? I guess what I'm trying to say is I've advocated until I'm blue in the face. Oh, I'll advocate when someone really cares to listen. Until then, I'm keeping my focus on helping the people whose understanding of music therapy is most important to me, and that's my clients.