Sunday, October 27, 2013


I am a borderline hoarder. I have lots of stuff and have difficulty throwing things out, but you can still see carpet and flooring in my home, so I feel pretty good about my borderline status. The only reason that this is relevant is that I want to write about inspiration and my home contains most of my materials.

One question I get asked lots is, "Where do you get your ideas?"

The answer to that question is difficult as I do not have any one place or technique that I use to find ideas. I engage in some mindless wandering, directed brainstorming, and feverish writing to get all the ideas down.

So, my house becomes my inspirational starting point.

As you can see, I have lots of stuff. I have poetry books, stuffed animals, and instruments within reach of my desk. There are pockets of instruments scattered around the front room. I have random bits of whimsy on the shelves, the walls, hanging from the ceiling. I use all of these things to help me find inspiration when I am stumped.

What does that process look like, you may ask? (Of course, you may not be interested in this topic at all and have stopped reading so you never got to this point at all...)

So, let's say that I have no good ideas, everything that I use in sessions is stale, and my clients (ages 5-22, diagnoses of both developmental and psychiatric disorders) are bored with our typical therapeutic musical experiences (TMEs). It is time to find some inspiration somewhere. I start to pace around the front room (that's where I keep my music therapy stuff). I pace until I see something that makes me take notice. Some days it is a book. Other times it's an instrument or a prop (like the arm hanging on the wall pictured here). I then take the object from its storage space and start my process.

I start with some directed brainstorming. With something I can touch, I start with sensory brainstorming. What do I see? What can I feel? What happens when I try to make sounds with the material? Are there any unique qualities or characteristics that can be interesting or novel to my clients? I write these down because I have learned that I can NEVER brainstorm without writing things down. If you don't document, it never happened. That is sadly true for me in my clinical practice.

So, I write it down and then continue with the brainstorming process. What goal areas come out of the sensory experience and information offered by the material? Once I have figured out the goal areas, I start to link my material, goal areas, and preexisting songs into TME plans. If I cannot find any preexisting songs, it is time to start composing. So, I start to compose a song that encompasses as many of the goals and ideas as possible. My songs are often simple, repetitive, and jazzy as I feel that my clients respond best to a specific style of music. I practice the song while I am writing the TME plan for my file. Then it is time to try it with my kids to see what they think.

When I get to the point where I just cannot see anything new or interesting in my environment, I start a blog stroll. It is amazing what you can find if you type in phrases like "therapeutic activities with adolescents" or "music therapy activities for children." Now, some of the stuff out there is absolute hooey - not at all appropriate or even interesting, but you can occasionally find some gems. Look around, ask for help, use your resources, and follow your inspiration!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Monster Mash...An Idea in Development

I don't do much to celebrate Halloween. It has never been my favorite holiday, and I am rarely home that evening to be able to do anything. I don't know anyone in my apartment complex, and I refuse to open my door to people I do not know. The only thing that I really like about Halloween is the chocolate!!

So, when it comes to session planning, I do very little about Halloween. I change all of my major songs to minor keys and modes, making things sound "spooky" and giving me a music theory challenge. That's about it.

I have several reasons for this. We have some students who do not celebrate anything due to religious reasons, and we have lots of students who have difficulty discriminating between "real" and "pretend."

This year, however, one of my personal goals is to focus on more emotional exploration and processing with my students. So, I am trying to develop new ways for us to explore our feelings and responses to those feelings. This has been a bit easier for my students on the higher end of cognitive function. I can find all sorts of resources, references, and ideas for how to engage them in emotional awareness and interaction. It has been much more difficult for my clients who have less abstract reasoning and higher executive function.

...but, I now have an idea.

I am going to make some large monster faces (nothing too scary). They are going to be laminated and scattered around our therapy space. We are going to name each face, labeling it with an emotion that we feel. Then, we are going to sing The Monster Mash written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi. We are going to mash the monsters with our feet as we sing about our emotions. Ooh, maybe it would be better to label our monsters with responses to emotions rather than the emotions themselves. Ooh, then we could talk about what society expects us to do when we feel angry or frustrated or sad. We could stomp out the responses that are not considered appropriate...

This is a glimpse of how my brain works when I'm developing a therapeutic music experience (TME).

Time to actually write this all down in my TME file.

***UPDATE: Here are my "anger monsters."

This guy is my favorite...
Time to laminate and get ready to run the TME!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Sick Day: The Sequel

Today is the second day of my sick day hiatus. I am feeling better, less dizziness, higher temperature (which is good since I was at 96.9 degrees most of yesterday), and better feelings, but I am still not great. My body does not often run a temperature when I'm fighting off something. My intern emailed me and said that she was running a temperature and not feeling well, so I guess I got the germs before she did. 

So, it's time for another sick day. Since I am feeling better, I am going to try to do a bit more around the house today. We will see how much I can get done before I crash. Laundry will be on the list as well as dishes and maybe cat food shopping later.

I'm now in sickness limbo - feeling better but not quite great. Concerned that if I go back too soon I'll be back here later on. Yesterday was a day full of errors - I missed a webinar for the first time ever (date mix-up), too little attention given to tasks, and just plain old funk. I was in a daze and am just now getting over it (I hope and think).

Sick days. There is a time for taking time off and getting better. I have to do this now and again - take time off from my primary responsibilities and be selfish. I am not being selfish taking time off, but there it is. That's how I feel when I take that time off for illness. I have to remind myself that it is better for my students not to get music therapy for a day than to get sick because I am sitting there breathing all over them or to get horrible music therapy because I am still in a funk and am not able to do my job. So, it is time for another sick day.

The hardest thing to do during a sick day is to rest. I get the "Shoulda, coulda, woulda" goblins (see the post on 9/2/13 for more about these goblins) and just cannot sleep, sit, and rest. The goblins try to take over, and I have to keep them at bay. It is time to focus on rest and rejuvenation so I can get back to the music therapy clinic and good, solid music therapy interaction with my clients.

So, today I will rest, take a shower, do some laundry, and run a webinar this evening (the date that should have been advertised instead of yesterday's date - bleurgh!). I hope that today goes better than yesterday did, and I am hoping that tomorrow is even better.

So, that's all for now.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sick Day

So, today I am at home because I do not feel good. This has been a sudden situation manifesting itself in dizzy spells, lack of sleep, a vague ache all over, and just plain old feeling blah. I debated with myself for a while before deciding that I really did need to stay at home rather than try to drive while the world was spinning.

I hate being sick.

I always debate with myself when I am not feeling good. Here's a sample of my inner argument...

Boy, I don't really feel well...

So, what's going on? Why don't you feel well?

I'm not sure. Let's see - whoa, the room just spun around. Uh-oh! I have a headache, but it's not a sinus headache, it's different. I feel simultaneously hot and cold. Oh dear.

Maybe it's a stay-at-home kind of day.

What?? I can't do that. I have a meeting, two groups, and four individual sessions today. I can't stay at home. Whoa. There goes the room again.

You are not going to be able to drive your car much less coordinate the music cart. Let's be rational here.

Rational? You want rational? I've missed some other days this year and should probably not miss many more.

What kind of good will you be if you end up driving your car into a ditch because of all of this? Better to stay home now and get better before trying to commute and not doing it well...

Well, you make a good point. Now, what do I have to do to let people know that I'm not coming in today. Text the principals. Email the intern. Okay, back to sleep.

(Now, for me, the fact that I was able to go back to sleep indicates that I am sick somehow. This is not my usual form of sick.)

Does anyone else go through an internal debate when it is time to be human and call in sick? I know there are some out there because it has been a topic of conversation on various listserves and other social media. Why do we go through this?

My theory is that we go through all of this because we are helpers. We are passionate about helping our clients through music, and we feel guilty when we cannot complete our obligations. I feel bad that one group of students will not get music therapy services today, but I have to remind myself that I am no good to them when I am reeling from dizziness, feeling feverish, and not thinking clearly.

Back to I can do therapy another day... 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Music Therapy Peeves - Pet and Otherwise

This will be a rant. I apologize in advance of the entire post and let you know that I really don't mean to be negative, but there are some things that just have to be said, you know?

Here are my Music Therapy peeves -
  • Bloggers who don't update their blogs - I love trolling the blogosphere for the thoughts, ideas, and therapeutic music experiences of other music therapists. I love seeing what others think about music as a therapeutic medium, but I hate when someone has started something interesting and then just plain old stopped writing...
  • Music therapists who are sloppy about idea sources - It is frustrating to find an idea that has no indication of who originally composed or developed the idea. As someone who heard a person take public credit for a song composed by me (and taught to this person during her internship which was right after mine in the same facility), I try to make sure that I know who comes up with ideas and songs so I don't take credit for someone else's work. It's not easy, but it is ethical. So, source your TMEs, people!
  • The attention grabbers - you know the ones - everything they do is just perfect and they have to let everyone else know about it. Ugh. I really do not need to know that you are the greatest therapist in the world! I think I am a pretty good therapist, but I know I am prone to errors, mistakes, and tripping over myself. I admit it freely and indicate this often. There are others who do not appear to ever have any human moments. Every thing is just plain old sunny in their music therapy worlds.
Whew, that list wasn't as long as I thought is was going to be at the beginning of this post. That's good.

You know, it's time to get off the peeve train and get back on board the creativity train heading towards the west... (Smooth transition?? I don't think so, but it's what it is on this early Saturday morning!)

There was some creative juice flowing this week in my corner of the music therapy room. My current intern is leading all of her sessions right now, so I am starting to have some time to think about things. This is good and not good at the same time. Let me elaborate...

I went on a blogosphere troll the other day - just typed "music therapy activities for teenagers" into Google and went from there. I found lots of crap on the interweb. Lots of statements that just verified the three pet peeves that I listed above. Lots of partial ideas, and lots of promised updates that never arrived.

One of the things that I did find was a play therapy text of ideas developed by play therapists. Here is the link: . This book is full of ideas for how to engage families and kids in interactive play and exploration. Now, none of it is music therapy, it is all play therapy, but a creative music therapist, such as myself (because I am the greatest music therapist in the WORLD and you all should quake before my freaking awesomeness - wink, wink!) should be able to adapt these ideas to music therapy interactions and experiences pretty easily.

It is amazing that you can start with a couple of words in the search box on the computer screen and end up with an entirely new crop of TMEs to use with clients.

Time to go shake off the peeves and pick up the creative process.

On a completely unrelated note, I have finished a crocheted slipper for my mom and am halfway done with the next one...

So, on with the creative thinking and crafting trend. Have a great week!!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Digging Out Around the Roots - Creativity Continues

So, continuing with the creativity cultivation theme...

Today's post is all about avoiding becoming rootbound.
Adj.1.rootbound - (of a potted plant) grown too large for its container resulting in matting or tangling of the roots
planted - set in the soil for growth

2.rootbound - having the roots matted or densely tangled; "shaggy untended lawns of old trees and rootbound scented flowers and shrubs"- William Faulkner
tangled - in a confused mass; "pushed back her tangled hair"; "the tangled ropes"

When plants are rootbound, they take over the place where they are and start to tangle up in themselves. Are you ever like that? I know I am. It is easier to sit around and stay exactly where I am than it is to stretch myself out and explore new spaces.

I have a feeling that I'm currently rootbound.

When my Mom's plants start to get this way, she finds them a bigger pot and repots them. She puts them into new soil and gives them more space to grow. When my clients start to get this way, I try to expand their horizons. Why is it that it is more difficult to do this for myself?

It is time to stretch my roots out into new soil and new space.

How to do that?

Who knows? Maybe I need to think about a new job. Maybe I need to spend some time away from the weeds that seem to be popping up all around me. Maybe I need to focus on my TMEs and my client interactions. Maybe I just plain old need to go away for a while. Who knows?

I'll figure it out. It just plain old is time to stretch myself in ways I've never conceived before.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cultivating Your Creativity

It is that time of year again. Time for me to spur my creative impulses on to develop new things to keep myself occupied. I tend to go through periods of time where I have lots of creativity and then I pass through creative deserts. I am currently heading towards desert if I'm not careful.

There are several things happening that are contributing to this dearth of creative responses. First, I am on LOTS of allergy medication as the pollen count here in my state has soared to record levels of whatever it is I am allergic to at the moment. I am spending time sleeping when I would usually spend that time thinking and creating. Second, my computer access at work has been decreased now that my current intern is taking over session leadership and is also taking over session documentation! Hooray!! What a nice situation to occur, but it does have some ramifications for my own process...

So, it is now time to discuss cultivating my creativity. (NOTE: I am not a gardener, so some of my analogies may be incorrect. Everything that I know about gardening, I learned from my Mom.)

Here are some of my tips for cultivating creativity:
  • Do something new everyday. Improvise a song or color a picture. Write a poem or make a gift. Something new needs to happen each and every day
  • Look over past efforts. Looking at the half-finished song that you wrote in 2009 may spark new ideas or may encourage you to finish the first effort.
  • Do not be afraid to fail. No one is perfect and creativity is a practiced skill just like playing a musical instrument. I know that my first efforts at something new will not be great, but it will be a process.
  • Enjoy the process. Have you ever just found yourself enjoying a journey even when you are not looking forward to your destination? The process of creativity is much more important than the product of creativity.
There are many other tips that I could probably think of, but my brain is fried, and it is time to go to work. I am going to make something new today...

Sunday, October 06, 2013


It is that time again... CBMT recertification time! I sent off my application for recertification this morning in the wee small hours of the morning. This is the fifth time that I've done this process, and I can tell you that I am happy to do so each time.

I feel that being board-certified is an important part of being a music therapist. I have never thought otherwise. I've worked with people who have not felt that being certified was important. It baffled me that a professional would not want to keep up with changes in their profession. It continues to baffle me.

There are many arguments -
  • I can't seem to get my 100 hours done. Really? It's only 20 hours per year, and I can get hours for every required training that I have to take at work already. I can get hours for CPR/First Aid, Behavior Crisis Management Training, and other requirements once per cycle. Go to a conference - 5 automatic credits. Present - another bunch of credits. Attend a course - more and more. Train an intern - 4 credits per year! I have never had any problem collecting 100 CMTEs.
  • It's too expensive. When you consider how much money it takes to be part of AMTA every year (another thing I feel should be a requirement, but that is a whole other blog post), CBMT is a steal! At $80 per year, I can continue to be certified. I feel that paying my maintenance fee every year is MUCH better than having to take the test and pay for that!
  • What are they doing for me? One word - advocacy. There will be a time when music therapists will have state recognition and/or licenses. This trend will ensure that trained and current therapists will be the only ones who can legally provide music therapy services. CBMT and AMTA are partnering in this effort, and they are making gains!
I am looking forward to sending my certificate to my employer as soon as it arrives in my mailbox. It demonstrates that I am a music therapist, interested in learning as much as I can about music, and applying that interest to the music therapy interactions that I provide to my clients every day.

I hope you have joined me in being a member of CBMT... and AMTA...