Monday, October 29, 2012

Guest Entry: Bella-Cat

Bella-cat here. 

Every so often, I take over the keyboard to express myself. It is time for my opinions on the challenges of living with a music therapist. Sorry if this offends some of you, but there are just some things that need to be expressed about living here with a person that sings CONSTANTLY!

I have been living here for six and a half years. In that time, I have learned countless songs about pumpkins, expressing feelings, independence, and any number of other topics. I am often asked, "What do you think?" I always express my opinions, but it is anyone's guess whether my opinions actually make it into the music therapy session.

I often stumble across some form of file folder or visual aid lying on the floor freshly printed and colored, waiting to be laminated. I evaluate each one and communicate my pleasure or displeasure through what I sit upon. If I like something, I sit on top of it, giving it the Bella-cat stamp of approval. If I don't like something, I shred it with my claws. (Sometimes I mix up my signs of approval/disapproval just to keep folks guessing about what I need to say!).

Yesterday, I was grabbed out of nowhere and was danced around for the length of an entire song!

I'm telling you - this living with a music therapist is a challenge that is unspoken! Nobody told me about the constant singing, the music going all the time, and the impromptu dance breaks!! Now, I'm a cat, and I just want to sleep, eat, and find some sunshine most of the time. I can't do that because of this therapist that I live with from 4:30pm until 6am. Thank goodness this therapist has a job that takes her out of the house for prime sleeping hours. When she is on a school break, she spends all of her time coming up with new songs, playing the guitar, and making things to use in her job. She spends lots of time asking my opinion - which I give, loudly.

Alright, time to go, but keep in mind that living with a music therapist is not always the quiet time that you might think.



Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's 12:19 on a Saturday

I cherish my Saturdays. Saturday is the only day every week that I do not have any type of paid work to do. I enjoy the stretch of lazy hours that await me every Saturday morning. I try to keep my Saturdays free of obligation and just reserved for fun times and housework.

I feel that it is important for every person to have a time free of obligation or responsibility. In order to be a good therapist, there has to be a time where you do not have to be a therapist, or a caregiver, or a parent. You just have to have time to be yourself.

My Saturdays tend to follow a pattern (just like everything else in my life - I do strive to be organized...). I wake up at the regular time - between 4am and 5:15am - and head to the computer. I spend some time catching up with email, Facebook, and committee work for AMTA, and then it's time to start a chore. (Today, by the way, I postponed the chore until later.) I usually end up trying to take an early morning nap while my family members call me and wake me up each time I get close to the napping stage. Then, I return to the computer or go into the craft room for some freestyle crafting. After that, I tend to spend some time cooking.

I am currently in a time of redefinition - of myself, of my clinical style, and of my profession. My twentieth intern graduated from my internship yesterday. Number 21 is nowhere on the horizon at this time, so I am looking forward to a time of focusing on my clinical identity at my facility. It is time to be "therapist" rather than "supervisor." There is quite a shift between my two roles, and I really miss "therapist" when I am primarily acting as "supervisor." It is time to get back into the therapy process full-time!

Well, I am off for the rest of my Saturday. I hope that you get one for yourself on a regular basis. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wacky Website Wednesday

A couple of years ago, my wonderful sister started sending me some website links every Wednesday. My sister, a first/second grade teacher in Southern California, is the technology guru for her school. She is constantly looking for interesting things on the web. She realized one day that I also work in a school, and she generously shared her Wacky Website Wednesday emails with me to share with my school.

Many of the sites were educational in nature, but there were a couple that were very valuable for me as a music therapist working with school-aged children and adolescents. I thought I would share a couple today...
  1. Kelly Riley's Music Classroom: This link has a list of online music games. My sister tried out several of the games, as did I. They were fun and sorted by age groups for elementary kids. Lots of good links...
  2. Incredibox: This link defies explanation. You just have to try it!
Happy Wacky Website Wednesday!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Ah. Here in the States it is a season of political debates as we get ready to vote for our next President and many of the Congressional Senators and Representatives that we expect to be our voices in government. It is always an interesting time of year - one that sends some of us (for example, ME!!!) shrieking and running away from any and all political conversations. So, as a result, you will not hear about who I plan on voting for or who I think is right. There you go...

Instead, I would like to focus on how we debate - each one of us - every day.

Yesterday, I debated with both sides of my brain whether I should address the pompous school secretary who attempted to throw away one of my projects without even attempting to find out who owned the materials. I erred on the side of caution and did not confront her. We shall see if that was a fortunate decision - I did rescue the materials and the project from the "giveaway" place.

I debated about a response to a particular person who just cannot respect boundaries. I opted for ultraprofessional tone and reestablishing firm boundaries about when and where and how contact should occur.

I debated with one of my individual clients during transition from her classroom group session. She seems to think that kids are supposed to tell adults what to do. I firmly believe that is not the case! She didn't want to leave. It was time. She continued to try to engage me in negotiation - I ended the discussion and stopped debating at that time. She eventually complied with my requests after I stopped talking to her.

There are times when you have to walk away from a debate without feeling like you have won. 

It interests me that the first definition of the word "debate" does not imply that there is a winner. There are really only two definitions that imply that someone will win a debate. Most of the definitions indicate that debating is an active process that often does not conclude in a "winner" or a "loser."

de·bate:[dih-beyt] Show IPA noun, verb, de·bat·ed, de·bat·ing.

1.a discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing viewpoints: a debate in the Senate on farm price supports.
2.a formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition are advocated by opposing speakers.
3.deliberation; consideration.
4.Archaic . strife; contention.
verb (used without object) engage in argument or discussion, as in a legislative or public assembly: When we left, the men were still debating. participate in a formal debate. deliberate; consider: I debated with myself whether to tell them the truth or not.
8.Obsolete . to fight; quarrel.
verb (used with object) argue or discuss (a question, issue, or the like), as in a legislative or public assembly: They debated the matter of free will. dispute or disagree about: The homeowners debated the value of a road on the island. engage in formal argumentation or disputation with (another person, group, etc.): Jones will debate Smith. Harvard will debate Princeton. deliberate upon; consider: He debated his decision in the matter.
13.Archaic . to contend for or over.
1250–1300;  (v.) Middle English debaten  < Old French debatre,  equivalent to de- de-  + batre  to beat < Latin battere,  earlier battuere;  (noun) Middle English debat  < Old French,  derivative of debatre

When I find myself in situations where I am engaged in a debate with one of my clients, I have to evaluate my therapeutic reasons for continuing to debate. Should I continue to argue with this client to allow them to experience a growth experience? Or am I just arguing to prove that I am right and he or she is wrong? If I am trying to be right, it is time to disconnect from the conflict spiral and walk away.

Time to walk away.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Promise of the New Week

It is early on Monday morning, and I am wondering what the week will bring. It is the first entire work week after two unnatural weeks - the AMTA conference week followed by a 3.5-day work week. It has been a long time since I have been in my music therapy clinic to see all of my clients. I am approaching this week the way I approach most weeks - with an open mind and limited plans.

I enjoy the thought of a wide-open week.

What music will we make this week? How will I get my clients towards their therapeutic goals? Who will challenge me? Who will I challenge? What paths will we take to get where we want to go? Oh, the questions are never ending!

When I was a novice therapist, I functioned the way I had been taught to function. I designed session plans and followed those plans as much as possible. (Now, in the interest of complete honesty, I never really thought of those plans as scripts - I was able to go off-script if clients needed it, even as a student music therapist!) I felt that it was important to have a plan and a prediction of how the session should progress.

Then, I learned to be more client-directed.

I think I often frustrate my interns when I tell them to stop designing plans for their sessions. I often find that my interns are unfamiliar with the idea of taking cues from the clients in front of them. They are more comfortable with the way we were all taught to proceed - make a plan and everyone will follow the plan! Ah, if that were only true.

Never be surprised when a client shows limited to no interest in what you have planned. I can't tell you how many times I have walked into a session with my plan prepared and the client doesn't seem to engage in anything I wanted to do. It happens quite often, even now!

What do I do then? I go back to the beginning and start again. My client is always the starting point. I start to ask myself some questions:
  • What does the client want to do?
  • What is the client's therapeutic goal/objective?
  • How can I use what the client wants to do to get him/her to his/her goals/objectives?
Getting answers to these questions helps me to be a flexible therapist.
I am heading into this week without a plan. I think I may bring out the Orff instruments to do some emotion improvisations or maybe some communication improvisations. I wonder if it will work with my clients. I don't know, but I will try. I have several new clients this week, and lots of groups that will be saying goodbye to my current intern (soon to be professional). I will be heading into this week with an open mind and enthusiasm.

I love the promise of a new week!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Use Your Words

Forgive me as I move into a bit of talk about spirituality here - I will try to keep it brief...

On Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings, I move into a different role than that of music therapist. In short, I am a church choir director. We have a Wednesday evening church service followed by choir practice. This past Wednesday, the pastor started talking about a letter sent to the early church in Colosse where the congregation was not able to communicate with each other. This bit of history started me thinking about the power of words...

One of the phrases that I use often is, "Use your words." 

In my work with children and adolescents with developmental and psychiatric disorders, I am always attempting to encourage my clients to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs in a way that I can understand. My clients do not always use verbal words to communicate, but they all have "words." Sometimes their words are in the form of an object, sometimes a picture card, and sometimes sounds. One of my kids moves his mouth to indicate the answer, "Yes," when he wants something. Others clearly communicate their unhappiness by screaming or crying. Communication is a form of behavior, and ALL BEHAVIOR IS COMMUNICATION (emphasis intended).

It is important to be able to let others know what you want, need, or think. With the skill of communicating comes the opportunity to be an independent human being. I, as a music therapist, have to encourage each of my clients to find his or her unique voice, and, once we have found that voice, I have to listen to what each person communicates to me - even if I am not really pleased with what is being said.

Use your words sparingly.

How do you use your words when you are in the therapy session with clients? I am constantly challenging myself to use less words when I am interacting with others, especially when I am leading a music therapy session. I try to keep my speech to a minimum because I feel strongly that my clients respond better to music than to speech. There is no need for me to talk about something when I can show that same thing and get into musicking more quickly!

The use of words relies on a common pool of meaning. Everyone needs to know what every word means within a specific environment. My students who use sounds cannot communicate unless the receiver knows what each sound means within the context of the conversation.

It amazes me how two people can hear the same words and come away from a conversation with completely different messages.

Use your words carefully.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Wrapping Up

I have exactly one more thing to do this conference, and that is to attend exactly ONE presentation this morning before hopping on the shuttle and getting outta Dodge (obscure Kansas reference ;-). This conference has been a busy one for me, mostly meetings, greetings, and talks with folks on the way to different meetings and greetings. I have enjoyed myself this entire time and have felt less exhausted than in the past several meetings. I consider this to be a good thing and hope the trend continues next year in Jacksonville, Florida.

As AMTA 2012 comes to a close, there are several things that I want to emphasize and review for myself. Please indulge me as I think "out loud," so to speak.
  1. My AMTA membership is important to me. It is important to be an active part of the organization that represents what I do on a daily basis. Sure, the dues are significant and sometimes difficult to accomplish on my limited budget, but the things that AMTA does for me on a daily basis are worth the expense. I am always learning about more and more benefits that just surprise me. I mean, who knew that AMTA was involved in legal cease and desist orders to protect my title of "Music Therapist?" I didn't, until yesterday.
  2. I am no longer young. Sniff. Sniff. Waaaah! Now, this realization is not really a surprising one for me...I mean, I have been a professional for almost (shudder) 20 years, but I am starting to feel the generational divides that exist in our profession. I am stuck in the awkward generation. I am not a novice therapist by any definition, but I am definitely still considered young by most of the AMTA leadership. I stood at the internship fair yesterday, talking to the young men and women of the newest generation, and felt ancient...but in a great way!
  3. The reach of social media is amazing. This was my year for meeting virtual friends face-to-face. I have been a blogger for many years now, and this is the first year where someone came up to me and mentioned that she read my blog. Wow! I have met many of the people who have attended webinars and folks that I have corresponded with through the Music Therapists Unite group on Facebook. It is amazing how we can connect without ever sharing the same physical environment. Thank you, all, who made an effort to talk to me about social media and the things that I am passionate about. All of these interactions made this conference exhilarating and valuable to me. See you on the 'net!
  4. There are many things I want to do. I want to keep reaching out to other music therapists and music therapy students. I want to keep growing the webinars that I offer. I want to work with other therapists in order to keep them interested and passionate about being a music therapist - wherever they are, and whatever they do. I think this is something that I can do for my profession.
  5. I continue to love the profession of music therapy. Even though I am having some difficulties in my workplace surrounding misunderstandings and apparent lack of interest in what my profession actually does (it's so much more than happy children making happy sounds) from my immediate supervisors, I continue to feel that music is an extremely valuable therapeutic medium for the persons I serve. I feel strongly that my clients deserve my very best, every day. I also feel that I have an obligation to future clients to help others be the best music therapists they can be. I love being around people who just know, on a visceral level, that music can be everything.
Thank you all, for being at conference, for wanting to be at conference, for keeping up with what is going on in our profession, and for going out there, day after day, to work with the people who need, deserve, and require our work. See you all in Jacksonville next year??

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Community of Friends

Do you know one of the best things about being at a music therapy conference? 

The immediate recognition that music is an important therapeutic medium for many, many people!

It is refreshing to be in a place where nobody asks, "So what is musical therapy anyway?" It is great to be in a place where music therapy is the first focus rather than shrouded in mystery.

This conference has been full of discussion about the future of music therapy as a profession. If you don't know by now, AMTA is talking about moving from a Bachelors Level Entry to a Masters Level Entry. My time at this conference has been predominantly centered around this topic. The conversation has been fascinating, challenging, and just plain old time-consuming. I think my active engagement in the discussion will slow down tomorrow, but who knows?

I am in a place where there are 1600+ music therapists. Two young ladies, walking down the hallway, started chatting with me about how it was their first conference, their education, and that I was an internship director. We chit-chatted down the hallway, and I encouraged them to attend the Internship Fair the next morning to talk to us all. What a great little interaction.

The conference has been full of these little interactions. What a renewal of the spirit these past three days have been! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

And Away We Go!!!

Today is Day one of the AMTA National Conference (on my schedule anyway!). I awoke at 3:30 (getting to be my typical time to wake during the week - don't know why. Hmmmm), and am sitting here, three hours later, mentally organizing my day while my nose drips and my roommate is sleeping deeply. I really love these moments at conference - quiet, anticipatory, and full of promise.

Today's schedule is as follows: 8am-3pm - Committee Meeting; 3pm-4pm - Joint Committee Meeting (my committee meets with another committee); 4pm-5pm - My Committee meets with our Council Coordinator and the Person in charge of Professional Programs; 5pm-6pm - My committee meets alone to wrap up stuff; 8pm-9pm - Committee Chair/Council Coordinator Meeting. Then, off to bed, for tomorrow brings a 7:30am CMTE (that I'm kinda in charge of...).

I really enjoy being on a committee for AMTA. I started off as a regional representative on the Association Internship Approval Committee (AIAC) and am now the chair. This volunteer opportunity has really exposed me to lots about what AMTA does for me and for other advocates of music as a therapeutic medium out there in the political, global, and universal communities. Did you know, for example, that AMTA will publish accepted texts, offering authors a very generous tax deduction for a charitable contribution?? I didn't until yesterday. It is amazing to see what happens at AMTA that I, the typical member, never know anything about!

Anyway - I really do enjoy my small role in AMTA, and I encourage all music therapists, music therapy students, and others interested in music therapy to find their place in the organization. Volunteer to be on a committee. Submit papers for publication. Engage in the social events available to you. Speak up when offered opportunities to talk about your opinions on important topics (like Master's-Level Entry, hint hint). If you have a concern, then air that concern to the people who can do something about it! Be involved in the organization - you will be surprised how much you will learn about the profession, about the people out there doing much the same thing as yourself, and how much you will learn about yourself.

I hope to see many of you in St. Charles.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Surreal Life

There are times when I just have to laugh at the strange nature of my very existence. This is one of those times.

I have arrived at the resort where the AMTA National Conference is being held. The original plan was to meet up with my friend, Christine, and then stalk other people hanging out who looked like music therapists (Do you know what I mean?? There is just a "look" to us MTs) until we found a couple of people to split the cab fare with us.

I found Christine along with five others who had reserved a limo. A black, stretch limo complete with chauffeur. We were invited along and spent about 16 dollars each instead of the 30-35 dollar cab fare, again, each!

I introduced myself to the people that I didn't know and found that I was sitting with AMTA's president-elect (who asked me to send her a song that I am composing), the CBMT representative to the AMTA Board of Directors, an internship director that I have met several times, and one of my professors. I just had to laugh.

A stretch limo, lots of people, and chatting about what makes us the same - music therapy.

I find this a surreal experience because I still feel like a newbie to the profession. It takes me a while to realize that I have been a therapist for almost 20 years, and that my generation is starting to have more responsibility as clinicians and as leaders in the field and the association. I wonder if my professor still feels that way.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Political Rhetoric

I get very tired of political commentary and discussion during election seasons. Last night was the first presidential debate. I did not listen, watch, or engage in any way. This is a conscious choice that I make during each and every election to help me maintain a positive outlook on life.

Now, this does not mean that I am not informed about the political viewpoints of those running for office - I most certainly am. I just choose not to actively engage in the conversation. My feelings (right or wrong, they are what they are) are that I get to vote the way I want. I do not allow others to attempt to change my mind. I fully support your right to vote the way that you want and will not attempt to change your mind.

It amazes me how the rhetoric of politicians moves into every organization at one time or another. If you are unaware of the current political debate in American music therapy, it is time to pay attention. At this point, the members of AMTA are discussing and debating whether entry-level music therapists should complete a master's degree program of study before working in the profession. This is an important discussion, and we need to engage in the conversation.

Sometimes people think their opinions are not valuable because they aren't experienced enough, old enough, loud enough, interesting enough, whatever. We may feel that we can't offer a position different from our professor... internship director... music therapy colleagues. I'm telling you that each and every one of us has an important opinion.

Offer your opinion. Know that there are others who will vehemently disagree with you. That is fine. You owe it to yourself to be opinionated, well-educated, and an active part of this debate!

There will be several opportunities to talk about this topic at the national conference next week, but you need to engage in this discussion - especially if you are a person who cannot attend the conference. Look for opportunities to talk, debate, and communicate your opinions to our representatives on the Board of Directors. Engage. Make your own opinions and be strong.

I will not tell you my political views - on Master's Level Entry (MLE) or on the presidential race - but, I will encourage everyone to take advantage of the right to make your own decisions.

Get involved. Start talking. Debate this with me and with everyone else. Speak up. Be counted!!