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.  


Meghan said...

Roia, you are such an inspiration. Thank you for telling the truth about the "dark side" of being a music therapist. It really can feel like too much sometimes, and we should be talking about that. Your devotion to your clients is clear in every word you publish.

Roia said...

Meghan, thank you for always kindly supporting my need to kvetch. As I said, I truly do believe that the act of naming what's difficult and looking at it is, ultimately, healing and helps us move through the challenges associated with our profession. I think it's probably why, in spite of it all, I'm *not* burned out on what I do. Thanks for seeing behind all the general noise to the truth of the matter!

james abram said...

Roia, I know your efforts will be truly appreciated especially in helping music therapy patients. I'm one of the patient of Bridies music therapy in Perth and I'm very proud of what they've done to me. They've improved my well being because of their music therapy sessions.

Roia said...

Aww, James, thanks for your very sweet comment. I'm so glad to hear you've found music therapy to be helpful to you n your life! And that is, after all, why we music therapist types keep at this day after day. Glad you stopped by and joined the conversation!

zebedancer said...

Thanks for your honesty. Sometimes it is just nice to hear that you (I) aren't the only one.

Roia said...

Trust me, zebedancer, we aren't the only ones! As soon as I get my act together (let's all NOT hold our collective breath), I will publish a guest post from a dear friend who chose to leave the field for some of these very reasons. Thanks for swinging by and commenting! And hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences and I'll be honest I didn't realise how belittling other professionals were toward your modality. There is a lot to be said for trusting the client to know what is helpful to them and MANY want music therapy. That music is a powerfully therapeutic intervention is a no brainer to me! Will look forward to more of your posts.

Wartburgkate said...

You are so spot on with this blog. It can be so demeaning and frustrating, even when the other professionals have good intentions. I always think it must be nice to be someone like my husband who says "I'm a CPA" and everybody knows what that means and understands its value immediately. I'm with you, sometimes I'm tired of advocating and would rather put my efforts towards my clients who actually GET IT!

Anonymous said...

Hi Roia, I've never posted here before but I came across your blog and this entry from a Google search. Because of just how relevant this field is.

I know I'm months late on this comment, but hope you'll bear with me. If it's any consolation, here's one person in a completely unrelated field who's actually considering a total career change to this field. To me, it seems far more relevant and tangible than a lot of careers out there, often which are geared toward profit and 'widgets' and seemingly arbitrary systems of value. And, lo and behold, millions of people in these professions are miserable. It all depends on what you prioritize.

So if it makes anyone feel better, I'm one person - and I'm not the only one - who wholeheartedly believes in music therapy and its tangible benefits. You know who else believes in it? Oliver Sacks, one of the most revered and renowned scientists of our time, frequently sung its praises (pun intended). He contributed so much to our discourse about the human mind.

It has to be so difficult to put up with comments from the uninformed or those who will not tolerate being informed - but, I think the only solution is to just keep going. You don't really need anyone's approval as to whether your field is legitimate - you have the degree and certification to prove it - but just as well, the results will speak for themselves.

Even if just one person is helped via your work in music therapy, then you have made a positive, real impact. It matters. And it will continue to matter, as long as people like you with the right intentions remain in it. With Sack's passing I think music therapy's acceptance will continue to grow, albeit slowly...I'll keep praising this field and I hope you continue to do so via your results.

- D.W.

Roia said...

Thanks, D.W., Wartburgkate, and Affinities Counseling, for stopping by and 1) reading my cranky diatribe and 2) for being supportive. And, yes, Wartburgkate, it would sometimes be nice to have a straightforward job.

It's interesting, isn't it? Because I wonder if other people have their profession questioned so often. That said, it also makes me wonder whether the fault is in our own community in some way. Is there something we're doing (or not doing, or not agreeing about), or some way we're presenting ourselves that is somehow detrimental? I don't know. Just stuff I think/wonder about.

Anonymous said...

Hi Roia,

THIS! My goodness, dear sir! You.hit.the.nail.on.the.head. Thank you for being so candid about your experiences. This is helpful. I can relate!

I work as a board-certified music therapist at a mental health hospital. It is a shame that even at my own workplace, where we are supposed to work and support each other as apart of an interdisciplinary team, that I'm still ignorantly approached as "the entertainment." 75% of my MT groups for SMI/dual-diagnosis patients are psychotherapy + 25% is music. I am not here to entertain. Music therapy dept. at my job helps the patients along their journey of recovery, sobriety, and improving their mental health status. I would think that working as a team would mean that the other staff at least knows that...but that's not the case.

However, I have taken it upon myself to have conversations with other staff. For them to understand what music therapy is will benefit our population because they can help out by encouraging them to attend groups. So, when I'm in the hallway or elevator and someone says, "look, there's the singer! What song are you going to perform today?" (Mind you this came from someone in HR...smdh). I smile and say, "Well, the patients seem to really benefit from participating in MT and making music. You see all these instruments on this cart? They play these...helps to decrease cortisol levels...I do not perform for them..." :-)

Again, thank you for sharing and being honest! The most important point is that we (MT-BCs) serve a higher purpose of helping to uplift other's lives through our gifts/talents (A LOT OF PATIENCE and some music)! :-)

Enter Active said...

Is therapy all in your mind? I feel I need to see someone because I am unhappy however I have been to two therapists within the span of five years and I still have anxiety issues (which is why my parents made me go in the beginning) and I dont believe it works. With that being said I would really like help because I hate feeling the way I do . Should I give it another go? Did it work for u?

Roia said...

@Anonymous I'm glad my ranting and raving resonated. Well, maybe I'm not glad about that. I wish we all didn't have to go through the madness. Well, then let's go with I'm glad I was able to validate your experience. Go forth and enlighten the masses!

@Enter Active It sounds as if you are struggling a great deal, and I'm sorry to hear that. I think it's important to shop around for a therapist with whom you have a good fit. Therapy is hard work, and we all bravely resist changing, so figure it will take time. I've been to therapy on and off for years. I'd like to think I had some insight from each therapist that I was able to take with me. Some were more effective than others though, for sure. If you're unhappy, I'd say keep at it until you find a person who tells you: "this is going to take a while, but we'll keep at it, and let me know if/when it's not working for you," because then you'll at least know your concerns are being heard. Sending you wishes for peace.

Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC said...

I studied for a little while under Pia Melody back in the 1980's. One of the things she taught me that I consider to be most valuable is this . . . . "

Someone's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are never about you; they are always about that person. And, your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are always 100% of the time about you."

Now, I didn't really like (or in the beginning even believe) that this is true.

But . . . over time . . . I changed my mind.

It is both empowering and humbling to recognize one's thought, feelings, and behaviors are about the owner and not those that they are visited upon.

". . . I honestly don't see how what you do is any different from someone putting a CD in a CD player," and "I'm afraid we're just going to have to agree to disagree, because we have different views on this" speak VOLUMES about your colleague . . . .

Yes, you are exhausted and discouraged and so much more!

But, I would encourage you to put on Pia Melody's lenses as I have and discover that while, yes, we all do have our junk to sift through . . . .

Their junk is not our junk!

Blessings to you on your journey!

Roia said...

Tamara! Good to (virtually) see you! Thanks for coming by to say "Hey" and, as always, offering your excellent wisdom. You're absolutely right in what you say, of course. And something *I've* managed to learn over the years is: if there's a situation that's bugging you at work, wait. Either the other person (or you) will move along, or you'll manage to connect on something and the whole experience will shift. In this case, the other person moved on. Ideally, I'd prefer relationships to shift, but that doesn't always happen. Thanks for the blessings! It sure is a process, isn't it?

Katie said...

THIS!!! I have been in the field for going on 5 years and just went back to my masters in MT and I'm really feeling this way and contemplating leaving the profession because of advocacy burnout. It was encouraging to know I'm not the only music therapist who gets frustrated and feels down about this every other day.

Roia said...

Hey, Katie. You wouldn't be the only one to feel like giving up on our field from being tired of the disrespect, I'm sad to say. That said, I'm really happy to hear you've moved on to work on your masters. I'll tell you the truth: the reason I went to finally get my master's degree (after 13 years of practicing with a bachelor's degree) was because I was sick of demeaning comments and wanted to have a better way to respond to them. Somehow I felt having more education would be helpful. It didn't change people's ridiculous comments, but it gave me the self-confidence to know what I'm doing is valuable and to give a lot less credence to the thoughtless silliness that comes out of people's mouths. Like Tamara said a comment or so ago, it's really not so much about us. Focusing on my clients helps. They put up with way more nonsense than I'll ever put up with in my life, and if they can do it, then I figure I can too. Good luck, and if music therapy truly is your path, I hope you won't give up.