Monday, August 27, 2012

Taking the Next Step

I submitted my first two manuscripts for review and possible publication just a couple of seconds ago...

There is something really nice about being able to be informal in this setting, but there is something really thrilling about writing something that may be published in a peer-reviewed journal. This has been a long time coming, and now it is time to show my thoughts and the fruits of my research to the more formal world.


Moving on from this topic into another...

I have started doing music therapy groups with kids who have never had me as a therapist before. These past two weeks have been interesting.

I can firmly state that I am having to reestablish my therapeutic relationship with my clients. Every classroom group has experienced some sort of change whether it be changes in peers, in scheduling, in teachers - every group! In addition, I have only one intern right now, so I am taking back the groups that my recent intern led. This means that I am having to start over with expectations, with leadership, and with each and every child who enters the music therapy room.

So, this week is devoted to running groups and observing the reactions of my clients to how I do things.

The next step is to develop strategies to re-engage my clients. Group one - adolescent boys at 9am on Monday morning - no one moves, talks, or seems to breathe! Next step with these guys?? Something physical first thing in the session to wake up those bodies before we start the thinking part of the day!

There is always a next step. Sometimes the step is doing something you have never done before. Sometimes the step is to stand back away from the situation so you can get a better idea of what is going on.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Thinking about the nuts and bolts of music therapy...

I have been thinking lots about how I do my job. There are things that no one ever really tells you about how to arrange yourself and your environment so that you can effectively do your job as a music therapist. How do you arrange your instruments? How do you organize your documentation? Now, not just what do you include, but what do your forms look like? Do you use a paper copy or an electronic copy? All kinds of things that no one ever really thinks about until they are in the midst of needing to complete these tasks.

I hosted a webinar about one aspect of being a music therapist - that of organizing our stuff - last Thursday. It was a topic inspired by my most recent intern graduate who is getting ready to start a job as an itinerant therapist, doing most of her sessions in homes and storing things in her car. In addition, it was inspired by my mother's garage, pictured here...

 Aaah, the familiar environment of home!

Anyway, when I see this, I see all of the tools that my Mom, an accomplished Occupational Therapist, absolutely CANNOT live without! I also see a never-ending organizational challenge that makes me itch.

How do we learn how to organize our materials, our sessions, our objects, our instruments?

For me, it has been a matter of trial and error, coupled with moments of frustration when I have not been able to find something that I need in the moment. My organizational structure works for me, and I really don't need it to work for anyone else. My interns learn to put things back where they belong (in my mind, anyway), because that is the way I organize. If they challenge my organization, I pull out the "Because I said so" gem that I hoard for those special moments. Since I have a bit of say in their final grade, they often do not argue for long. ;-)

My organization system goes much deeper than my instruments. I started making file folder activities for children and adolescents several years ago. About two years ago, I realized that I would be able to identify the appropriate folder activities if I had color-coded everything from the beginning! Aaah, where was that brilliant idea from the start? Now I get to go back and either use them the way they are (not color-coded) or make them over again! I am still debating that one...

Here are my basic tips for organizing your music therapy flotsam and jetsam:
  • Choose one place in your environment where you always keep your music therapy stuff - do not deviate from that one place!
  • Organize based on convenience - what do you use together the most often?
  • Buy multiple sets of popular materials - more than one is never a bad idea!
  • Set up your sessions ahead of time and take only what you need.
  • Keep an inventory of your stuff.
  • Use a check-out system to keep track of where you have put items - even if you are the only person using your materials, a system will help jog your memory if you have forgotten that you put the scarves in the preschool session box.
In the interest of full-disclosure, here is one of my instrument cabinets at my facility... and a picture of me sitting at my extremely messy desk!!

Happy Organizing!!!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2800. 2800!!!

When I logged into blogger today, I found the number 2800 - the number of times my blog has been viewed by others out there in the universe. Seeing this number totally changed my topic for this blog post which was originaly going to be something along the lines of "Pinned and Wriggling Against the Wall." Aren't you glad I changed my mind?

It could have been SO much worse!


This blog is my place to process, vent, analyze, and engage myself in thinking about music, therapy, and me - my place in the world of music therapy. I think of it as my online journal and tend to treat it as such. So, when you look at an entry on this blog, pretty much anything goes!

Today, I am thinking about the role that music plays in our lives - not necessarily from a music therapist's point of view, but from the perspective of a human being...

One of the people on the Music Therapists Unite Facebook group asked for ideas about demonstrating a music therapy intervention for a local television show. This started me thinking about how I demonstrate the use of music as a tool for people who have no idea what a music therapist actually does on a daily basis.

It seems to be easier to demonstrate the use of music as a therapeutic medium when you start with familiar uses of music.

  • Music for motivation - Listening to music when exercising or working
  • Music for learning - Use of song to convey information: ABC song, 50 Nifty United States...
  • Music as signal - Music with the morning alarm; music to cue group behavior (National Anthem); bells or tones at school; commercials and jingles
  • Music used in celebrations - Music for celebrations - Happy Birthday to You, Wedding March
Once the audience understands that music is already working on all of us all of the time, it is easy to move into a discussion about purposeful use of music as a therapeutic medium. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Satisfaction in a Job Well Done!

I am the proud owner of a website,, which has never really made it off the ground - at least, not in the way that I hope it will. I have owned the site since 1996, probably longer than some of you have been alive (sigh), but have never really found my way into the business side of things. That is starting to change.

In April, I started offering webinars to music therapists through my website and various social media sites. I started demonstrating how to make mallets. Five people signed up and three were there on the night of the webinar. Two stayed for the entire presentation.

In May, I talked to an audience of eight or nine music therapy-type people about composing songs in ways to get us out of creative blocks when they occur (and they do). We continued the conversation in June with a talk about approaching our goals and objectives with clients from a different perspective than we were taught in our schooling.

The webinar in July was supposed to be an opportunity for therapists to share and exchange ideas in a TME swap shop. It ended up being me sharing my ideas to about 20 music therapists and therapy students, but others expressed interest in being presenters the next time around! Success!!

I am enjoying the sense of community that has resulted from the interaction that I have had with therapists from around the world. It is often easy to feel isolated in my professional setting where I am the only music therapist who actually does music therapy in the facility (in reality, there are three other music therapists who work at the facility, but they do not do music therapy as the primary part of their jobs). I feel that it is important for us, as music therapists, to interact with others from places near and far away.

This month's webinar is going to be a discussion about how to make the best use of the space we are given. Next month, another TME swap shop.

Man, I really need to figure out a way to charge for these things...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Happiness Initiative

This week consisted of three days of not only being a music therapy internship supervisor, but of actually being a music therapist!!

One of my biggest challenges as a supervisor is the time when my interns need to be independent and have some time alone in their sessions. This situation, while great for them, is harrowing for me.

From the times when I start to feel scattered, restless, and out-of-sorts, I have learned that I really need the daily contact with clients to keep me actively engaged. This has led me to make several decisions, starting right now!

I will no longer accept two interns at a time unless it is necessary to do so. If I do have two interns, I will make sure that I still have plenty of therapeutic interaction with my clients. I will never fully leave the music therapy clinic. If there is a teaching position in my future (doubtful, but you never know), I will be an adjunct professor instead of a full-time professor. You couldn't pay me enough money to transfer my clinical population from persons with intellectual /developmental disabilities to college students. (No offense meant to college students, I am just not suited to being a classroom teacher or professor - I love students in the clinical arena.)

So, what does this have to do with the happiness initiative?

It is so much easier to focus on the positive when you feel a sense of accomplishment. I can see the faces of my clients when they realize that I really mean that they can hit the drums as hard as they can! I love the process of finding someone's song along with them! 

I am happiest when I am listening to a song improvised by a group of children with diagnoses on the autism spectrum.

Off to be a therapist some more! I hope you find the same joy in being a music therapist that I do.

Friday, August 17, 2012


Today is Friday.

I have a multi-disciplinary day ahead. On Fridays, the art therapist, the music therapy department, and the adapted physical education department get together and plan a large group session. Four classes for an hour of Music, Movement, Art and Rhythmic Sensations (MMARS). We start with running games and activities, all centered around a weekly theme. After we exhaust their bodies, we move into cognitive experiences.

These sessions tend to be very popular with the kids.

I like the change in routine from music therapy focus to multi-disciplinary focus on Friday. It makes Fridays seem like a day for play rather than a day for therapy.

I'm going to go play now. More music therapy thoughts this weekend!!! 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Thoughts

Today's early morning cruise around my social media sites revealed that most of my friends and acquaintances are starting to be faced with challenging situations. At this moment, my life is settling into a routine (and I am certainly NOT complaining about this), so I am going to dedicate my happiness initiative to others right now.

So, here are some of the good and happy thoughts that I am sending out into the universe right now...


Safe journeys.


New jobs for those who need them.

Continued jobs for everyone else.

Clear directions for those of us who need direction.

If you need one of these thoughts, take it. If you do not currently need one of these thoughts, try passing them on. Think about the people in your life who are in the need of thought, and send thoughts into the world to find their way to the people who need them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Going Back

Today was the first day of the fall semester at my facility. It was a work day interrupted by waiting to sign up for health benefits and behavior management training. Once my two tasks were finished, I didn't do much more with my day. I reviewed the 105 emails that had accrued in my inbox, made a list of kids who were leaving and another list of kids arriving. I spent some time talking to my friend, the Art Therapist, about schedules, our break, and various and sundry other things, and I took down the summer school entry bulletin board.

The rest of the time was spent sitting in my music room wondering what I should be doing.

I didn't do much - just enjoyed being in my space, by myself.

My intern was not present as she was originally going to the intern of my recent graduate. I had already taken an inventory of all of the materials in the music room (thanks to the help of my interns). The senior intern's desk was clear and ready to use as storage. My desk was relatively clear, so there was really not much to do other than to just sit and enjoy the relative calm until kids arrive.

I love my job. I enjoy being a music therapist who works in a school setting. I love working with children and adolescents with developmental and psychiatric disorders. I look forward to each and every session with anticipation, and I try to keep that enthusiasm for all aspects of my job. Sometimes, I am successful - other times, I am not.

My happiness initiative will be a focus of my year. I am still retraining my amygdala to go towards positive thinking rather than negative thoughts. I will keep thinking about what makes me happy...

Children laughing when the monkey puppet is bad.

Making sounds we've never made before.

Games where my kids beat me horribly!

The Orff instruments - all 16 of them!!!!

Watching my intern turn from student to therapist.

Plenty of time to finish my documentation.

Singing, playing the guitar, and playing the piano.

Happy first day of school, everyone!!

You are one of my happy thoughts! 

Thursday, August 09, 2012


Over the past two weeks, as I have been on Fall Break, I have been cleaning my residence. One of the benefits of cleaning, at least to my music therapy side of life, is a reminder of all of the books that I have about music therapy.

I have lots of books about music therapy. You know that part of my life is a tendency towards being a packrat, so just imagine what I have available to me on the topic of music therapy. I even started my music therapy education before Davis, Gfeller, and Thaut published their first edition of Introduction to Music Therapy, so I have the articles used before textbooks! Can you imagine??

I enjoy looking at the texts that I have in my library. One of my treasures is an original copy of Music in Therapy edited by E. Thayer Gaston. It was part of the professional library at my facility when I started. When they disbanded the library, I asked if I could have the book. The administration granted my request, and now I have a good copy. Now, most of the information that is presented in the book is severely out-of-date, but for a history buff, such as myself, it is a treasure trove of history.

I have two editions of Defining Music Therapy by Kenneth Bruscia. The first edition was my text for my senior year in music therapy school. The second edition came out when I was teaching the same senior class as a graduate student. I am pleased to have both editions as they illustrate the philosophical and practical changes that Dr. Bruscia went through in writing the texts. He occasionally makes statements about why things have changed between the two editions - I find his discussions fascinating, and very affirming to me as an ever-evolving music therapist. If Ken Bruscia can change his mind about the role of music in therapy and as therapy, then so can I!

I think I will try to read a chapter of a music therapy text each week. I also think I will start with Models of Music Therapy Interventions in School Settings, edited by Brian Wilson. I've had this text for many years, yet it still seems brand new. I will start to read and then continue to evolve.

Happy reading!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

48 Hours and Counting...

My part of school starts in 48 hours. There are three, count them, THREE days of teacher in-services before students start back to school. Friday's schedule contains signing up for health benefits and a review of Safe Crisis Management - a behavior management system used at my facility. The rest of the day will be a work day. My former intern is getting married in Oklahoma, and my current intern is attending the wedding, so I will be by myself at school on Friday. Monday and Tuesday are meeting days - lots of sitting and looking interested as we review the characteristics of persons with diagnoses on the Autism Spectrum.

I am currently trying to shut down vacation mode and get back into work mode. 

Vacation mode is full of lazy days, limited tasks, and attempts to organize my life. Work mode is made up of scheduling, thinking about music as a therapeutic tool, and practicing my functional skills. 

My major task for the next 48 hours is to pack the car with materials to take to work. That is all. That is one of the beauties of vacation mode - limited tasks per day. Once work mode is back in full swing, I will have lots of things that I have to do each and every day. So, I am going to enjoy my last 48 hours of vacation before going into work mode.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Lessons on Therapy that I Learned from My Cat

So, BIG SURPRISE! I am a cat person. 

I am sure that that fact isn't much of a big reveal to many of you, but in the interest of full disclosure, I thought I would use my pet to introduce several lessons about therapy that she has taught me over the past 6 years. Since it is time, as well, for my annual goal setting exercise, I will just combine the two.

Baby Bella on the first day at her new home.
Lesson One: Sometimes the best way to relate is to get comfortable. Lie down on the floor if that is what is needed. Sit on the floor, recline in the recliner. If your body is comfortable, you may be able to address uncomfortable topics better. 

Goal One: Interact with clients where they are rather than where I think they should be.

Lesson Two: Be curious. Ask questions. Keep asking questions until you get to the right question. Try new things - go into them cautiously, but try them anyway.

Goal Two: Deny no opportunities when they arrive.

Lesson Three: Rest when you need it. There is nothing more calm than a sleeping cat. Since they spend most of the time sleeping, this lesson is an easy one to glean. A tired therapist is a less-therapeutic therapist. Get sleep when you can. Go on vacation. Spend time away from being a therapist. Relax.

Goal Three: Make sure that there are periods of time each day for relaxation.
Lesson Four: Do your chores when you need to do them - don't put them off. Cats spend a bunch of the time that they are not sleeping in grooming activities. They clean themselves all the time.

Goal Four: Keep up with chores in the clinical space. Do cleaning tasks, documentation, and other administrative tasks as they arrive rather than putting them off.
 Lesson Five: Trust your instincts. If you feel a specific way about a person or situation, listen to your feelings. My cat tends to be suspicious of me, especially when I am stalking her with the camera. I love this picture - it shows that my cat keeps an eye on me, even when she is trying to sleep.

Goal Five: Speak up when situations are not appropriate. 

Thank you for indulging my cat obsession as well as my goals for the new school year. See you soon!!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Being Lazy

In the movie, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, and Fred Astaire, Bing sings a song called, Lazy. In the song, he expresses a sincere request to just relax, sit around, and do very little. The unfortunate part, for the character he plays, is that he chooses to buy a farm for the scene of his laziness little knowing what is required with farming. Here is a YouTube link for you: .

His idea of laziness doesn't work out very well for him. That tends to happen to me as well. I always start off each break and vacation with a picture of how my time will be spent. That picture often ends up being wrong and nothing goes as planned.

My current break from work is coming to an end. There are four days left until work starts up again. I have been lazy. I have completed some projects and have ignored others. I haven't pushed myself to do anything, but, like Bing, things have not worked out as planned.

This is not a bad thing. 

My work ethic, influenced by my parents and my own personality, is strong. I enjoy work. I spend lots of time thinking about work, making things for work, and working. When I have time when I am not working, I tend to feel disconnected. I have learned that being lazy is not a bad thing - and I allow myself to be lazy when I can.

Good thing I have almost had enough of being lazy. I am ready to get back into the music therapy routine of things. I am starting to make plans for sessions. I am practicing songs and am attempting to finish the home-based tasks that I have started here over the past week and a half. The lazy days of Fall Break are almost over, and I am ready.

"Lazy, I wanna be lazy. I wanna be out in the sun, with no work to be done..."

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Turning the Corner

My sister, a second-grade teacher, actually took most of the summer off. Now, you may be thinking, "Of course, she did. She doesn't get paid to work during the summer, so she always takes the summers off!" But, oh dear reader, that it is the furthest thing from the truth. She has not taken a summer off in years. She generally goes in and rearranges her room, makes copies of worksheets, updates her technology on site, and spends time at school. This year, however, she turned in her keys and did not go to work for almost two months!

She started the summer enjoying being at home, but very quickly started thinking about her job again. I knew she was ready to be back in her classroom when she had a brainstorm! She decided to change her classroom theme from Winnie the Pooh (theme for the past 14 years) to Cars! The change gave her something to organize and work on while she was not able to get into her classroom. For the past two weeks, however, she has been in her classroom every day the school has been open.

This story personifies the women in my family. We enjoy our work, feel that we need some time off, but cannot seem to keep our minds on vacation. My mother, an Occupational Therapist, has spent most of her summer working in the garden, organizing her plethora of therapeutic stuff, and thinking about the sessions she will run starting next week. My sister and I have inherited that work ethic and joy in our work.

I have four days of vacation left. The past ten days have been full of planning, boredom, cleaning, and chores. The next four days will probably be focused on what I want to do when I get back to work on Friday. I have started my "work stuff corner," the place where I am stashing everything that needs to be taken to my music therapy room. I am thinking about what I will be doing with my intern next week. I am practicing my guitar songs and am going through all of my ideas to pull out TMEs from the past to introduce to my current clients.

In my opinion, breaks from our work routine are essential for us to get back into a working frame of mind. I know they are for me. I need periods of time to refresh my interest in being a therapist. Maybe this is part of my introversion - I like being alone, occasionally crave being alone, and need to be alone, but I also enjoy being around other people. It often takes two weeks of isolation for me to turn the corner from being tired of being around people, tired of being therapist and supervisor, and to move into a feeling of being refreshed and ready to interact with my clients.

It is now time to do the laundry, steam clean the bedroom carpet, and make some file folder activities for my clients. Time to get ready to go. I am almost ready.

Saturday, August 04, 2012


Yesterday, I had one of my insomnia nights. These often happen around full moon time and tend to be a pretty obsessive time for me. Last night was no exception. I started off the evening trying to sleep, but just could not find any type of drowsiness in me at all.

Now, I am an "early to bed, early to rise" type of human. I enjoy my seven hours of sleep daily and like to take naps as well. So, a night of insomnia is not something that I look forward to.

Last night's episode was particularly difficult to start with. I kept obsessing over the recent arrival of another music therapist in town. While I have met this therapist and consider him an acquaintance, for some reason I just kept thinking of his name - over and over again. Often when I get into these loops, I am ill, but not last night.

After three hours of trying to sleep, I finally gave up and started to work on a long-term project. I spent three more hours writing an internship text and finished two chapters. I went to sleep four hours ago and then woke up tired but less obsessive.

I have come to think of these types of nights as valuable experiences. My nights of insomnia give me a very small glimpse into the symptoms of some of my clients' diagnoses. The bouts of obsessive thoughts, the inability to shut down my brain, and the overwhelming desire to sleep seem to be things that my clients go through. I am fortunate that my symptoms are only temporary. My clients do not have that luxury. I am additionally able to understand what is happening and can control many my reactions. Many of my clients are not able to use behavioral and cognitive modifications to assist them in changing their responses and reactions.

So, rather than cursing the elements that contribute to my nights of insomnia, I try to use the experience and turn it into a positive thing. When it happens, I have two choices - sit and worry about not sleeping, or using the awake time in a productive manner. I always do both. First I obsess over not sleeping, and then I give up and look for something to do.

Insomnia, a strange gift, but one that I am learning to value.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Music, Therapy, and ME!

I find the origin stories of music therapists very interesting. You know, the stories of how we found out about music therapy, when we knew we needed to use music as a tool to help others, and how we found our preferred populations. I also enjoy the stories about how we sustain ourselves as music therapy professionals in our various facilities. While the origin stories fascinate me, the sustaining stories are part of what keeps me going day after day.

I found music therapy at a Girl Scout Wider Opportunity. 

I attended Studio '84 with 103 other Girl Scouts in Evansville, Indiana on the campus of the University of Evansville. I attended as a vocalist, and part of the Opportunity was to explore different careers in music and the arts. We had a lecturer come from the music education department who gave a nice talk about being a music educator. On her way out, she said, "Oh, there is another program here but the professor wasn't able to be here. It's called music therapy, and here's a brochure." 

I heard a click in my head as soon as I heard the two words, "music therapy."

That was it for me. I was destined to be a music therapist from then on. It's been 28 years since that chance comment, and I am still destined to be a music therapist.

That story would mean nothing if I didn't have some sustaining stories as well.

There are the countless numbers of clients who have trusted me enough to try something new. There are the kids who have made big leaps in the music therapy room - showing skills that no one else had ever seen. The clients who call me, "Music," when they see my face. The kids who start to sing one of my songs during their free time when they don't know that I am watching them through the observation window. The former clients who remember me and my songs years and years later. The kids who have decided that it is better to engage in a musical experience than to kick the therapist. There are so many sustaining stories that make all of the rest of the challenges more than worth the effort and energy.

Find those stories in your own life. Write them down. Find a way to keep those sustaining stories for those times when you need help remembering why you love the profession of music therapy. If you can't find any stories, do yourself a favor and find something that will sustain you. 

What are your stories?

Thursday, August 02, 2012


I have been thinking about the concept of shelter for the past two days. This is due to the challenge for August from the website, The Sketchbook Challenge. The task is to represent an idea in your sketchbook in any way, shape, or form that you want. So, I have been thinking.

I am new to the idea of art journaling and sketching, but I am enjoying the task.

Anyway, back to the concept of shelter.

My friend, Tawnya, the art therapist at my facility, asks students to make a "safe room" representation during their sessions with her. They get to make the best place in the world - someplace that is safe and all their own. There are no rules to what has to be in the room - no rules about what is not allowed - no rules at all.

As a music therapist, I have never really thought about the concept of shelter, especially how it is interpreted by my clients. I have been pretty spoiled in my existence, but the contemplation of this topic is starting to challenge my place in the world, my family, and in my music therapy practice.

I have always wanted my music therapy space to be a safe place. In addition to physical safety, I have tried to foster an idea of emotional safety as well... a place where my clients can try new things, can express their ideas, can fail without being ridiculed. There are no wrong answers in music, there is just improvisation. I find shelter in that thought and try to express that to the children that I serve.

There is safety and security in following a routine, completing a cadence, in singing the same words to a familiar song.

There is, however, a thing as too much shelter. Being over cautious can be more debilitating than a disregard for safety. Living your life without trying new things is to experience only a portion of what the world offers us as human beings.

Music can introduce novelty - small bits at a time - focusing our attention on what is new and unexplained. Music therapy can be a place where small changes can be experienced and lived through without as much distress as other places. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


You know how things just seem to be going along on one specific path, doing your job, and just minding your business? All of a sudden, there is something little that happens that changes your outlook, your plans, and your mind.

Serendipity is a funny thing. You can just move around your world minding your own business when something happens.

The something is not always a big thing - it may be just a little thing, but it is just enough to jog you from one path to another path. Part of looking for happiness means looking for those small things that can bring joy into your life. Today, I am planning to clean my bedroom carpet - the whole thing, clearing, vacuuming, and steam cleaning - and when I got ready, I happened upon new episodes of a television show that I really enjoy - 13 more episodes! Oh joy, oh rapture!!

So, at this point, I have several options. I can give up on my plan to clean my house, setting myself back on my vacation plans. I can pretend that there are no new episodes and just go to my plans. The plan I will probably take up will be the reward plan...a bit of work, an episode, a bit more work, and an episode. I will keep going until the work is finished, and then I can watch all the rest of the episodes!

The plan will allow me to have short amounts of rewards interspersed with longer periods of working.

Serendipity. Something unexpected that leads to something good. A happy accident. 

Hooray!! Off to watch the first episode and then WORK!