Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas Eve. I am a Christian, so I celebrate Christmas as the second most important day of my year. 

I am also a therapist, so I not only appreciate the beliefs of others, but I fully support those beliefs as valuable and as important as the beliefs that I hold.

My clients have a variety of religious backgrounds and belief structures. In order to provide them with appropriate therapy in areas of spirituality, I have to understand their belief structure, respect those beliefs, and then work within those beliefs to reinforce the value of those beliefs for them.

I would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice, and Happy New Year! Please know that I wish all of you health, happiness, and enough challenge to keep you moving through life.

Blessings to you all!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Professional Bullies

It is amazing how some folks attempt to control others through intimidation and posturing behaviors. The "I'm better than you" attitude shines through in interactions and gets in the way of appropriate professional demeanor. I am currently involved in a situation where I am being harassed by a coworker. His entire form of communication with me is antagonistic, abrasive, and abusive. He yells, he makes inaccurate assumptions, and he tries to embarrass me in front of my clients and coworkers on a regular basis.

I have followed professional protocol by reporting these behaviors to my supervisor, and, when she didn't do anything, by filing a formal grievance with the school district. When we had our face-to-face meeting, he stated that he didn't want to fight because he was "there for the kids." Well, how nice.

We established some ground rules for professional interaction in the future. We established a code phrase to mean "back off" and leave. I am not holding out much hope that he will be able to follow those guidelines, but you better believe that I will be documenting all interactions for the next step in the grievance process.

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and attitudes, and happen throughout the life cycle. I think this guy feels threatened and overwhelmed and has decided to make me the focus of all things evil in his life. 

I had an intern who did the same thing once. Even though all of the different aspects of her life were changing in ways that she could not control, her attitude was that I was making her miserable. It was my fault that she had to find a new apartment. It was my fault that she had to work to support herself. It was my fault that she was feeling overwhelmed by life. She was easier to deal with than this guy.

I am thinking lots about the bullies throughout my life these days. Sean and Eric, this post is for you!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Getting Ready for an Online Conference

It is almost time for the second Online Conference for Music Therapy. For the record, I am on the Organizing Committee and am the treasurer for OCMT2012, so this post is brought to you by the fact that I am immersed in preparation for this conference. 

If you have never heard of this conference, don't be surprised, but please do check us out on Facebook; on Twitter #OCMT2012; or at our website:

Now, for the interesting part of this conference.

It is all done through an internet link on your computer. If you have the ability to stream the internet, you are able to access this conference. If you have a webcam and microphone, you can present at this conference. It really is that simple.

It is also lots of fun.

Please plan on joining us on February 18, 2012 for the second Online Conference for Music Therapy!

See you there.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Historical Figures

This last week I found myself in the unique situation of being 6 miles away from the sitting President of the United States. He made a speech in a small Kansas town just a short way away from my work. I was unable to go since I had to be at work and didn't have an entire weekend to stand in line for tickets, but this started me thinking about history.

The second event that occurred this week was the passing of Clive Robbins, music therapy historical figure. Dr. Robbins was an awe-inspiring figure in our profession, but he was also a quintessential therapist - gentle, concerned, and caring of others.

My most thrilling and personal interaction with Dr. Robbins occurred in San Diego, CA in 2009. I was standing in a dark corner of the gathering area presenting file folder experiences in the Clinical Practice Forum. There were lots of people walking around, unfortunately not music therapists but participants in a gymnastics competition - ugh. 

So, there I was, standing next to my homemade display of information and projects, when Clive Robbins walks past, stops, and returns to look at my composition folders, my homemade games, and my stated objectives. He stopped and chatted with me for a time about the use of visuals and games to engage kids in music therapy treatment. He stated that he and his wife, Carol, had developed ideas similar to what I was presenting.

That 7 minutes of my life was so much more than just a conversation with a person. 

Those 7 minutes provided me with a chance to meet a man who I revered.

Those 7 minutes made me feel like a peer.

Thank you, Dr. Robbins, for your influence on my profession, for your continued search for the music child in all of us, and for your caring for a fellow therapist. I will miss you.

Thursday, December 08, 2011


Yesterday, I was knocked over by a student who was angry. I landed on my bottom hard, but didn't seem to be hurt other than just knocked around a bit. As the day progressed, however, my right Achilles tendon started to ache. I limped around the music room for the rest of the day and then limped to church and choir rehearsal.

When I got to my home and took off my shoe, I found a large bruise on my right ankle wrapping around to the back of my foot - there was a reason why my tendon was aching so much! I took today off from work to do the prescribed process - RICE - rest, ice, compression, and elevation - as well as some arthritis medication to help alleviate the pain of my fall.

This incident was a good reminder that I am not:
  1. as young as I used to be,
  2. listening to what my clients are trying to tell me as well as I could, and
  3. able to do everything.
I fully believe that we are led to what we need to hear or realize when it is appropriate. I needed to remember that I have limitations, and my clients were able to remind me of those limitations very well this week.

There is a pattern of behavior in school settings in the period of October 31st through January 1st every year. Children escalate in mood, in energy, and in noncompliance. At the same time, teachers experiencing a decrease in energy, in time available to do things, and in patience. I, as a therapist, am often in the teacher camp at this time of year. I also have the additional stressors common to all musicians at holiday time - performances, celebrations of the season, gigs, programs, etc.

My students are good at reminding me that they need consistency and routine more at this time of year than at any other time.

Being knocked down by a VERY large 14 year old boy is a good reminder that I need to step away from the stressors and just focus on providing my students with music therapy sessions that assist them in dealing with the stresses of the season on their lives.

So, after I finish my physical healing from the very jarring reminder that I was not doing a good job at my job, I will head back to the music therapy room to focus on my clients and their needs.

Thanks, kid - but next time, could you just use your words?? 

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Building a Therapeutic Relationship

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in not one but two sticky therapeutic relationships. Let me explain further...

I have an extremely large classroom group made up of students with a variety of diagnoses and levels of functioning. This is the classroom where the oldest kids with diagnoses on the autism spectrum have been placed. There has been lots of change in the classroom - new students, new staff members, new environment, and new academic expectations - all in the last 6 weeks.

Now, music therapy at the beginning of this change looked a lot like mass chaos. Imagine 12 large teenaged kids rocking, trying to walk in circles, yelling to gain attention, plus 4-6 staff members, 1 music therapist, assorted rhythm instruments and props in a room designed for approximately 10 people (maximum).

As the therapist, I found it very difficult to communicate with my clients - the familiar clients and the new clients. I couldn't get a chance to know my new folks because I had too many relationships going on in the session. 

In my weekly talks with the Art therapist (something we started this year that I really enjoy, but that's a different post all together), I found that she was having similar difficulties. Now, some of her issues with the classroom group was their level of autism, but her art therapy room is smaller than my music room, so all of those bodies were crammed into a very small space. She was not feeling like she was able to address any type of therapeutic outcome because she was trying to keep kids in a very small space.

We became proactive rather than reactive and went to the principal with a plan.

We proposed splitting the classroom into to two groups. We had to rearrange our schedules to add an additional session, but we were able to do so.

Our first week of split sessions concluded yesterday. On Monday, six students arrived in the music room for music therapy. These students have a variety of diagnoses - not all of them are on the autism spectrum, but they all have some interest in playing instruments and singing. They completed my session plan and appeared to enjoy playing the YouRock Guitar (another shameless product promotion). We had a successful session. Yesterday, the other group arrived in the session. This is the group that has diagnoses on the autism spectrum and are most of the new students in the group. These are the folks that I have not had a chance to get to know. Yesterday, I did.

By the end of the session, the two clients who always sat with their iPods in an attempt to mask sounds were not wearing their iPods. They were engaging in the improvisations that I was leading, they were completing all requests, and were communicating with me about what they wanted to hear on the stereo. I even got a kiss on the cheek from one of them (he surprised me, but still!).

I now have a chance to build therapeutic relationships with these clients - folks who have attended music therapy for a while now, but have not interacted with much due to the constraints of the previous sessions. I am looking forward to next week's sessions.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Planning for the Day

Well, it is time to get ready for the week.

I am moving into the music therapy room with absolutely no plans for what to do with my clients. I have five groups to work with (one brand new) and two individual clients for the day.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do have some guidelines to work with. I do have treatment goals and objectives that provide me with some boundaries for treatment, but the actual process of what I will do from opening to closing is somewhat undefined at this time.

I prefer to work this way. I was taught to write detailed session plans during my practicum experiences. One of my supervisors would sit behind the one-way mirror and check off what I did during my sessions. If I changed something, she would challenge me about my changes. Since I was working with at-risk preschoolers at the time, I found that my carefully detailed plans did not always lead to the most appropriate session. So, I changed the plan.

One of the most important things that I have found during my sessions over the years is that I have to enter every session with an idea of what I want to accomplish with my clients. That idea rarely comes to fruition exactly as planned during the session, but that is fine.

When I plan for a session, I am taking into account only two parts of the therapeutic triad - the therapist and the music. I am not taking into account the most important part of the triad - the client.

The client is the most important part of the music therapy session. Without the client, there will be no therapy. Therefore, when I go into a session with a set plan, I am not taking into account that the client has unique ideas and talents to contribute. Therefore, I have to adapt my plan to each person who enters the therapeutic relationship.

So, I am off to work and getting ready to design my group sessions. Here is the plan - choose a song for the Holiday Sing. There you go! Other than that, my session plan is wide open. We will sing a bit, move a bit, think a bit, and learn a bit. Enjoy your day!

Sunday, December 04, 2011


Music is an essential part of life. It is interesting how every culture in the world has developed musical expression to express emotions - love, frustration, anger, courage, pride, sadness, mourning. It also fascinates me that the same music does not necessarily translate meaning to other people. If I write a song to convey a specific message, other people may not understand unless I can explain it. On the other hand, other people may understand what I am trying to communicate. They filter the music through their own life experiences. My love for Finlandia by Sibelius is completely based on my life experiences and the places that I am and have been in my life.

The power of extramusical associations is not to be underestimated. My memories can be triggered by song at any time at any place. You're the Inspiration by Chicago takes me back to high school crushes. Rhinestone Cowboy by Glenn Campbell is from my little kid days in Texas. The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber shoots me back to Hashinger Hall in college and singing loudly in my dorm room.

This tool that we use in our everyday life, music, gives us so many options, experiences, and avenues for assisting our clients in finding their paths towards their goals. I spend so much time using the elements of music as a tool that I sometimes forget to listen to the music that is around me.

Right now, as I am sitting here blogging in my home, I am watching a television series that is using music to illustrate an emotional point. The music is not of really good quality - the singer is a bit whiny and quite annoying - but it tells a story. As the story has progressed, the singer has become less whiny (or I am accustomed to it) and less prominent in the show.

There has been a discussion on the edges of the music therapy listserve lately about the quality of music presented in music therapy sessions. Folks have been asking and discussing whether it is important that music therapists provide high quality musical experiences for their clients. Should music therapists be able to sing in tune? Definitely. Should music therapists know the chords that are in their songs? Of course. Should music therapists be able to play by ear. If not, what they are doing as therapists? Should music therapists sound like someone else? Not at all. I do not feel that my musical interactions are not valid if I do not sing a Britney Spears song like Britney Spears. My interactions are more valuable when I am authentic to myself and to the therapeutic relationship.

Aaah, the musings of a music therapist who has had too much time to think this weekend. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Trying, no striving for organization

I try very hard to be an organized person.

I have a reputation for being organized, but I just remember things well. I spend lots of time remembering the things that went wrong in situations and then making sure they do not happen again. For example, after needing electricity in a professional meeting and watching my battery die, I always bring an extension cord to meetings. This appears to be a signal of organization to others. To me, it is just learning from my previous mistakes.

In my home life, I am a pack rat. I buy things that I really do not need, but that I think I will use in the future. Now, the good thing is that I do use that stuff in the future, but I store it in my house in the meantime. That means that there is LOTS of junk in my small living space. 

This next week is clean up and throw out week.

I will be looking at what I already have here and will be trying to figure out what is finished and what is still needing work. We shall see.

The transfer to the music therapy world is a convoluted one...sorry for this.

I think that a pack rat person makes a creative therapist. I have a literal bag of tricks to go along with my music therapy bag of tricks. If a client has an interest in trucks, I can find something that will engage that client in music therapy.

Now, enough time sitting here talking about getting organized - I have to just do it.


Here I go.