How-To Be "Therapist"

I'm writing a bit these days, coordinating several new projects, and that is leading me to think lots about the process of doing music therapy. I'm talking about the "how to" do bits and pieces of our job rather than the "why we do." Somehow, the "how to" helps me figure out the "why I do" part of my role in this world.


I have always been interested in "how" we do the things we do, not just the "what we do" elements that are out there. I want to know why the therapist chooses the music, song, chord progression for improvisation during an interaction with that specific client. I want to know if there is conscious thought about what the therapist is doing or if the therapist goes into the interaction instinctively. I want to know the "whys" behind what we do with the clients in our care.

I suspect that we don't always have the answer to the question "why?" Here's where the "how" helps me to inform the "why." I know that I started my career with a beginning to the question of "why," but it didn't really arrive until my internship. My ID, Sheryl Kelly, was good about sparking the idea of "why are you doing this with this client?" She made me improvise and changed my thinking about what that term meant. My thoughts on the "whys" of music therapy interventions really firmed up during graduate school. I had enough experience with the "what" happened in music therapy to start understanding the "why" it happened, informed by the "how I did things."

Is this confusing? Probably. I'm a bit confused myself!

Simply put (well, an attempt anyway), I want to know if you "feel" that you should do a particular song/therapeutic music experience, or if you base your idea on your philosophy. Are you following a script? Are you following your instincts? Are you following a prescribed program developed by someone else? Are you just randomly trying things out?

There are times when I do most of the former situations. There are times when I follow a script. There are times when my instincts take over. I don't ever use prescribed programs (one of my faults - I don't view curriculum as THE way to do things, but just as a beginning), but I randomly try things to see what will happen next.

Even though there are times I'm not thinking about things BEFORE I do them, I have a good foundation in the "how" specific elements of music work with many of my clients, and that foundation informs my "why" I choose what I choose to do. 

My foundation is the science of music and its effect on human beings. For me, the music is the center of my therapeutic interaction with clients. Therefore, I think long and hard about how music may affect my clients' progress towards their individual goals. I identify ways to adapt the music, deepen the experience, and/or strengthen the relationship through the therapeutic triad of therapist, music, and client.

I feel that, since I have this foundation, I am a better therapist. I understand my treatment modality as much as I can, and I keep learning more about how music affect human behavior every day. I doubt I will ever stop learning about or being intrigued by how music works in our brains and bodies.

Here's hoping I don't.


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