Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Being Authentic to Who You Are

I have been crawling in the virtual music therapy world again, and I stumbled upon a post on Music Therapists Unite about "being stuck." This comment struck a chord with me (as I am sure that you know if you have been reading my blog lately). The author asked if others ever felt stuck in their work. The comments were varied, occasionally on topic, and interesting to read.

Some folks recommended supervision. Now, in these situations, supervision often refers to a one-to-one session with a therapist (sometimes music, sometimes not). Some folks think that supervision or counseling should be a requirement of being a therapist, and they aver that supervision has made them better therapists. Other music therapists feel that such a requirement is not necessary. I fall somewhere in the middle of the argument.

For the past nine months, I have participated in a formal meeting with the art therapist at my facility. While this is not necessarily professional supervision or counseling, I think it has fulfilled a need for both of us. We have a safe space to talk about our challenges in the therapy arena, we can discuss administrative issues, and we can talk to someone who has an idea of the uniqueness of each of our creative arts therapies. While I do not necessarily feel that this meeting has kept me from burn out or "feeling stuck," I do feel that this weekly opportunity has kept me focused on how I do therapy in my facility.

If I had to find someone and pay for this service, I would not be able to do so. My salary does not even cover my basic expenses and professional supervision would not be feasible. In addition, I do not feel that every person is suited to therapy. As an introvert, the idea of having to talk about things going on in my life to another person is threatening to me. I have been in counseling during periods of my life, but I have never felt that I could be authentic in my counselor's office.

Rather than focusing on the supervision topic, I would like to talk a bit about being authentic.

For me, this idea of authenticity means that I am able to be critical of my experience with the world, that I can engage in problem-solving, that I can identify when I need more assistance with issues, and that I can recognize times when I am not able to be the best I can be. I feel that I can achieve those goals outside of professional supervision.

There are several things that I have in place that allow me to be more authentic to myself.

I have a support system in my family. My Dad is the best person at identifying when I am not being true to myself. My sister is my sounding board when I am upset about something. My mother is my righteous advocate - all for me, all the time! My brother tends to diffuse issues with humor. I am fortunate that they are at the other side of a phone line whenever I need them.

I journal. With the acceptance of my current interns, I have started an art journal. The only rules are that I have to journal on the page that I open to and that the date goes on the page. After that, there is no structure. It has been interesting to look at the entries over the past four months. My color choices, words, and pictures have revealed quite a bit about the situations that I have been going through. There is the black page when I was concerned about a situation with a co-worker, the multicolored page when he was fired, and small pictures on various pages.

I blog. Here is where I talk about issues with and about music therapy. By placing them on this blog, I have a chance to present ideas to anyone and everyone. but I have a record of my own process through various thoughts, ideas, and situations.

I think that the old statement, "different strokes for different folks," is apropos here. Professional supervision is one option. Other procedures and processes are other options. I think we each need to find the thing that works for us and then use that thing to process through our lives as therapists. By accepting options, we accept that there are differences in how we work through this thing called therapy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Things I Love to Use in Music Therapy

You know, after 19 years as a music therapist, there are just some things I cannot live without in my clinic. This post is dedicated to those objects, materials, instruments, and just plain old stuff that I love. Some of these things are your typical things, others are very unique. I will try to include links to more information as I can find them.

Round Bells - I fell in love with these during my internship and bought two sets as soon as I found them again. Unfortunately, the company that made the bells, F.M.T., does not seem to be making them any more. These really seem to satisfy the self-stimulation needs for kids who enjoy things that spin, and they make a very good sound. The bells are tuned to a C diatonic scale. I bought my sets from an obscure music company 10-15 years ago for $39.95 each - more than I like to pay for ANYTHING, but these were more than worth it! 
Rise Up Singing Songbook - This songbook offers the lyrics and chord structures for over 1200 folk and popular songs. While it does not really help if you do not already know the melody of the song, this book offers full copyright information as well as information about the various recordings available. There are a series of teaching CDs that purport to teach you enough of each song to be able to replicate them, but they seem pretty expensive, so I haven't bothered. These days, you can find either MIDI or You Tube representations of almost every song, so you should be able to learn the music without spending money on the teaching recordings.

Laminator - I cannot live without my laminating machine. I purchased it as a birthday present for myself two years ago. Mine is a Fellowes Saturn 125 (here is a link to the laminator on Amazon). I like this one because it will laminate my file folder games and activities using Menu-sized laminating film. I have also found laminating film for pretty cheap using Lamination Warehouse.

Large Die-Cuts from the Dollar Tree - I have thousands of these that I have laminated. At my local Dollar Tree, there is an entire section dedicated to The Teaching Tree - supplies for teachers and educational goals. These die-cuts are a bit smaller than an 8.5X11 sheet of paper, come in all different shapes and colors, and are easily recognizable by my students with developmental and psychiatric disorders. They come in many different patterns, themes, and colors. This is the easiest way I have found to get and store visual aids large enough for an entire group to see at the same time. At $0.10 each, I do not get upset when I need to replace a picture. Each set has five different die-cuts, two examples of each die-cut. Once they are laminated, they last for a very long time and work when visual aids are necessary for client involvement, engagement, and interest.

Here are some of the things that I rely upon in my clinic day after day. I, of course, could go on and on and on about other things, but this seems to be a good place to stop. Feel free to contact me about things that you cannot live without in your clinic - I am always interested in what others do out there.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Crawling the Blogosphere

One of the things that I enjoy about vacation is that I spend some time crawling around the music therapy blogosphere. It is always interesting to see what my fellow music therapists are writing about, and I do not always have the time or the inclination to look around during the school year.

There are some amazing music therapists out there, writing about important and semi-important things. I do not have a list of people that I track on a regular basis, but when I type "music therapy blog" into my Google search window, I get lots of options to visit.

Did you know that there are people out there selling their music in mp3 song format and/or CDs? There are music therapists who are leading sessions via Skype. There are music therapists that use their blogs to preach their own form of music therapy to the masses. There are folks out there like me who just ramble on and on about anything that comes into our heads. So many different therapists doing so many different things.

It is probably a good thing that I do not have time to do this often, since looking at what others are doing often produces feelings of inadequacy in me. I look at what everyone else is doing, and I feel like there is so much more that I should be doing. I spend some time engaging in thinking about doing more, realize that I cannot do everything in the world, and then shrug and move on. 

It is important to keep in touch with what others are doing out there in the world.

Thank you for crawling across the world wide web to my little chunk of the blogosphere! 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sense of Accomplishment

Today I completed a project.

Does that sound unimpressive? I am sure that it does, but I am very proud of myself.

Today I created my very first file folder game instruction booklet. I eventually hope to sell this to interested parties for a small amount of money, but right now, I am just looking at the finished product with pride. I created a template, filled it with specific information, drew the graphics, and printed out the entire thing!!

I am very excited.

Of course, this project has nothing to do with what I want to accomplish for the next eight days, but I am off to a good start. I'll keep you posted on any other accomplishments that occur...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Vacating for Vacation

The school year is officially over! There are 10 bliss-filled days of vacation stretching in front of me until the Extended School Year session starts. The opportunity to "vacate" is thrilling to me at this point right now.

You can never underestimate the importance of being alone (now, I am speaking as a VERY strong introvert at this time!). I love being around people, but I need time by myself to truly refresh and reinvigorate. The next ten days offer a chance for me to be alone, seeking interaction with others on my own schedule, and to prepare for the next chapter in my music therapy life.

I will not be idle, however.

List of things to do in the next 10 days...
  1. Composition and Creativity: Part One Webinar (this evening at 7pm - register on my website)
  2. CLEAN my home!
There you go. I will also spend some time making visual aids, composing songs, cooking food, swimming in the pool, taking walks, settling in for long naps, and chasing the cat from room to room.

I hope you have an opportunity to "vacate" your job for a time.

    Monday, May 21, 2012

    The End of the Year

    It is the end of the school year.

    You know, when I was a student, I really didn't realize how much teachers looked forward to the summer. I naively thought that they would really miss standing in front of us on a daily basis.

    Then, I became a school-based therapist.

    I can tell you that teachers and school-based therapists look forward to summer breaks, winter breaks, spring breaks, and days off with the same enthusiasm as their students.

    Thinking about this, I realized that being a teacher is grueling, not necessarily in the body but in the mind. Being a good teacher means that you have to constantly adapt your teaching style, presentation, and information for a large audience. You have to learn your students' expressions to determine whether they are not only listening but also comprehending your information. You then have to change how you are conveying information so you can ensure that all students are learning the lessons. That requires lots of energy.

    There are correlations to being a therapist. A good music therapist also constantly adapts his or her interaction with clients during sessions. I have to adapt the therapeutic elements of music in order to engage the attention and participation of my clients. It is sometimes easy to keep things going - sometimes it is difficult. By the end of the school year, it is difficult.

    I know that I am looking forward to the end of the school year. I get eleven days of solitude and relaxation before returning for the extended school year (a necessity for my students on the developmental, intellectual, and psychiatric spectra). The extended school year is seven weeks long, but we only work four days per week, so it feels like a mini-vacation every week. The change in schedule helps me to maintain my feelings of relaxation and renewal until the regular school year starts up again.

    It is the end of the school year. I am getting ready to sleep, clean, and become refreshed.

    Saturday, May 19, 2012

    Just Be SIlly

    I enjoy being silly. There is something quite liberating about acting like a fool on purpose. To that end, I write silly songs to use with my clients.

    There's a Pickle on my Head - This pickle!!
    Forgive a little cross-promotion here, but I have published a therapeutic music experience (TME) titled There's A Pickle on my Head. Here is a link to my website and the Ideas and Experiences page. (Click the word link above).

    This song is just supposed to be silly.

    Of course, if clients also have a chance to work on body part identification or social awareness, that is just a happy accident, right? Right!

    This is just one of the new songs and ideas that have arrived lately due to my attempts to jump start my creative brain (which has been dormant lately). Unlike the Flamingo Flop, which was directly inspired by one of my interns who has been singing about the pink birds, this one had no clear inspiration. It just popped into my head during office time. Then, the melody, chords, and TME plan followed...

    Have you ever had to jump start your creativity? Do you ever feel that your job is becoming too serious? My recommendation? Just be silly!

    Try things that are not usual for you. Use an accent to engage client attention. Play and sing songs in different modes. Sing about candy bars or hang nails. Just be silly. It is amazing how a bit of silliness can engage even the most recalcitrant client in appropriate interaction and engagement. I have been silly with the elderly, with folks in psychiatric treatment, and with my kids. If you can demonstrate being silly, then clients can feel free to engage as well. The best part of being silly is that you can accomplish many treatment goals when clients are invested, engaged, and having a good time.

    Feel free to download all of the ideas and experiences that are located at the link above. Let me know how things work for you!

    Be silly!

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Creativity and Composition - Part One

    In 6 days, I will be hosting my second ever webinar for music therapists and music therapy students. As I tend to come up with ideas about what I want to learn by looking around my life and wanting specific topics to appear in the music therapy world, this one has come out of a creativity desert. So, what did I do? I went back into my old presentations and culled out several things that helped me break out my creative rut into an increase of songwriting and creative applications I can use in my music therapy practice!

    Before I get distracted, here are the details about the webinar:

    Title: Composition and Creativity - Part 1
    Description: A 1.5 hour seminar focusing on composing songs for use with music therapy populations. Music therapists and music therapy students welcome! Bring a pencil, some staff paper, and follow these steps to increase your creativity in music therapy sessions.
    Date & Time: Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 7:00 pm CDT
    Please register for the above meeting by visiting this link:
    Once you have registered, we will send you the information you need to join the webinar.

    Any and all folks interested are welcome! Does not cost any money, so please plan on joining us!

    There are so many things that I have forgotten over my years of leading therapeutic musical experiences with folks, that I have to make a special effort to review that material whenever I find myself in a creative slump. I have learned tricks to trick my creative self into making good music. Other times I cannot trick my brain into being creative.

    Reviewing the techniques that I have used in the past is the best way to get myself back into a creative view. Lately, I have composed a song to go with a Therapeutic Music Experience (TME) for body part identification, creative movement, and simple enjoyment of a silly song. That TME plan, song, and visual aid will be posted on my website at:
    as soon as I get it completed. Watch for that new TME offered by!

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    Intuition Wins Out Again

    Several months ago, I spent lots of time talking about professionalism. My posts on Sept. 23, Oct. 30, Nov. 6, and Dec. 23, 2011 were all centered around my relationship with a difficult co-worker, one who attempted to bully me and who was not an appropriate teammate at all.

    That co-worker was fired on Friday.

    As I have been thinking about the past 10 months and the utter lack of professionalism that has led me to my various rants, all I can think now is, "I knew it!"

    I get strong feelings about some people at times. When I have such a visceral reaction to a person, I try to figure out why I am responding so strongly. Past encounters have demonstrated that my intuition is a good indication of who to spend time with and who to avoid. Unfortunately, a creepy feeling about a person is not enough to convince others about possibilities.

    That intuition is a good thing as a therapist - a lousy thing as a co-worker. As a therapist, intuition assists me in figuring out how to approach a client musically. It helps me evaluate and assess how the music is interacting within the therapeutic triad (of the client, music, and myself as the therapist). It also allows me to look at a large group of kids and choose music that, generally, affects their collective behavior and shifts said behavior to another state with limited need for any behavior management technique other than the music. 

    As a co-worker, I really can't go to my supervisor and say that a person needs to be fired because "I have a bad feeling about that guy." It doesn't work that way in real life.

    I trust my instincts and my intuition. Years of being shown that my initial feelings are often the best indication of a true situation has shown me that I need to listen to those little feelings, whispers, and tickles and avoid those people when necessary.

    Listen to those small, still voices. They are often correct.

    Sunday, May 13, 2012

    Give a Kid a Microphone...

    On Friday, I coordinated our annual school Talent Show. This event is an easy one to run - students sign up to present talents, and I provide the materials. It is always an interesting afternoon, and this year's show was no exception!

    One of the things that has always fascinated me about my students is that most of them have no fear of performing. It is rare that I find a kid who has stage fright. Give 'em a microphone, and their inner hams come out to play. The audience of 100+ people doesn't give them pause. They don't always know the words to the song or the chords to their piece, but they go on, soaking up the attention and the applause.

    This year's performers included an 8-year old playing the drum set, one young man doing crunches, another shooting baskets, and a duet singing the Oompa Loompa  song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There was a flash mob, several singers, and a surprise rap by a young man with autism who does not always participate in music experiences.

    It was a great afternoon, and I think that all involved were happy about how the students performed.

    I hope that you get to see such performance moments with your clients. Those times when making music or sharing a different talent wakens a part of your clients that otherwise lays dormant.

    (Just so you know, I went home and collapsed for the rest of the weekend!)

    Saturday, May 05, 2012

    The Scholastic Book Fair Warehouse!!!

    Yesterday, I had the opportunity to enter nirvana.

    Confession time - I am a bibliophile.

    If I had to choose between food or books, the decision would be VERY difficult. I would certainly decrease the quality of my food choices so I could also get books. The best thing EVER is a library card - I can use books and then get new ones. I love history, mystery, scientific texts,  music books, poetry books, atlases, journals, science fiction, romance novels, anything with Grover from Sesame Street in it, and more! I am afraid to start to count my books - there are a mind-numbing number of books in my home.

    I enjoy everything about a book. I love holding them, I love listening to them as I use them, I like the way they smell. Books have been such a huge part of my life that I do not feel complete without a book at my fingertips.

    So, an invitation to the Scholastic Book Fair Warehouse sale was a social event I could not resist!

    My sister is a second grade teacher in California, and she gets these invitations on a regular basis. She has taken me to the warehouse near her in CA, but it has always been closed. That has been a cruel experience - being so close, yet still so far away!

    Yesterday, my world opened up with my own invitation and my own warehouse to explore.

    I entered the room, fastpass in hand, and started to walk down the aisles. Now, Scholastic hosts book fairs in schools across the country. When book fair season is finished, they send back the extra books and sell them for dramatic discounts to teachers and other school personnel. The warehouse is only open to the public for a short amount of time. I went to the first aisle and just stopped in shock. Seven feet of books to choose from. About 20 rows of shelves. About 50 feet of shelving per row. Oh my.

    I was able to escape nirvana with 14 books and only spending $48.86 this time. Unfortunately, they gave me another coupon so I will be returning. Hopefully I will be able to get over my feelings of overstimulation and will be able to focus on purchasing books that will enrich my clients' music therapy experience. I think there will be lots of things that I can use in my practice, but, for the moment, I will just revel in the bliss of books.

    I hope that there is something in your life that produces the feelings that I experienced for a short time yesterday. Find that thing and enjoy it! 

    Thursday, May 03, 2012


    A couple of the skills included in the AMTA Professional Competencies are to: 
    • 22.7     Express thoughts and personal feelings in a consistently constructive manner.
    • 22.8     Demonstrate critical self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses. 
    As an internship director, I require that my interns keep a personal journal to assist them with these two competencies. I was required to keep a journal. I am sure that my ID had to keep a journal during her internship, and I am sure that the tradition can be traced back to the first internship director in the first music therapy internship program way way back. Journaling has been a way for us to express our thoughts and self-awareness since time began (for MTs, anyway). 

    This year, I started a formal journal along with the acceptance of the first intern after about six months of just being the therapist at my facility.  I made several "rules" for my journaling process, primarily because I like structure. The rules are simple. I open the journal to the first blank page and place the date on the page. After that, anything goes!

    Most of my own journaling includes words that just flow over the page in what may appear as a disorganized mess. I prefer phrases, word art, and small sketches rather than complete sentences. (I save most of the sentences for this blog, believe it or not!!) My pages are often cluttered, colorful, and crammed full of comments that lead me to remembering my state of mind and circumstances surrounding my entries. It is interesting how this journal, more than any of my other attempts, has been more meaningful to me as a tool for critical self-awareness than any of my more traditional attempts. I just had to find what worked for me.

    I think that finding what works best for each of us is one of the most important aspects of professional development. I have had to try many things to find my own way - not just in journaling, but in music therapy, clinical training, and other situations. It is important to find your own way of doing things - journaling, clinical supervision, blogging, talking to peers, and any other technique on the path to critical self-awareness and expressing thoughts and feelings in a constructive manner.

    Just an aside...

    This weekend, I made a journal from scratch. I had all of the materials, so I put it together, let it dry, and then checked to see if it worked. It did!

    Here it is! As you can see, my Star Wars obsession is represented nicely through the wrapping paper cover, and I can state with certainty that most music therapists DO NOT carry a journal like this around with them! The process of putting together this book was joy filled, and using it will be a pleasure as well.

    Another step on my journey towards critical self-awareness in my professional life. See you along the way!!