It's Always a Journey: Theme-Based Centers in Music Therapy Treatment?

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It is very early on Friday morning where I currently am sitting, and I am enjoying the relative quiet and a visit from my brother's cat, Walter. Walter is an interesting little cat - half the size of Bella cat and all lean muscle. He is definitely Grandma's darling and got a special blanket of his own for when he moves out of this house into my brother's new place later this week. His present was the largest in the pile on Monday. He is definitely a well-loved cat.


This is the beginning of a new series of blog posts. I'm not sure if it will become a weekly theme or not - for the moment, this will be an occasional theme about how I put my session strategies together. I hope you like it. Now, on to the topic for today...

I have been here, surrounded by creative people and family members who love me most of the time (they are the same people) for four days now. I have been writing in my little book every morning as I waken early and wait for everyone else to start to stir. I have several pages of ideas, of plans, and and therapeutic music experiences (TMEs) to actualize when I get home. I've been shopping at the one educational supply store that I don't have nearby at my home, and I am officially finished with my purchasing for this year. I think I am ready to start my new year with some theme-based centers in my music therapy clinic.

This is a concept that I've been exploring for a year now. I both like and dislike the idea of centers in the music therapy room, and I am struggling with that dual perspective at the moment. I like the idea of centers for the independence, the choice factor, and the ability to specifically plan what kids will be learning about music. I dislike the idea of centers for the time it takes to prepare each center, the need for good staff members to run some of the centers, and the decreased connection with students. As I contemplate these benefits and drawbacks, I have to keep the thought that my current model doesn't work well with the large classes that I currently have to treat in the treatment model expected by my facility. Something has to change, and this may be it.

Centers (AKA stations) are something that I used almost exclusively during the summer months. This was my first trial period to see if I could actually run centers in a music therapy group. I found that I could, and am now dedicating my attention to the new way of doing centers. 

Here's how it worked during the summer...

I started with a theme - we explored The Carnival of the Animals this past summer. I had a coloring book for those who enjoyed coloring. I made sensory boxes to explore - find the animal types of things. I led therapeutic skill development centers myself. There were at least two things to do (away from me) during each week. Clients were encouraged to try everything, but did not have to complete everything (choice). Some clients never left my carpet to try anything else. They stuck with me. Others never came over to see what I was doing. I had to remember that choice was one of the primary goals with independence being yet another and not get emotionally involved with whether a client wanted to interact with me.

Lessons I learned this summer were varied. I was reminded that nothing really ever goes exactly as you plan it, so the ability to be flexible in both how centers were completed and how I ran sessions was imperative. There were times when releasing clients into the centers just was not smart, so I pulled them back to my carpet and did not offer center time. There were other times when we needed a bit more structure, so I timed center time and offered clear indications that it was time to move. Clients could still opt out of a center, but they had to move to that center area. They couldn't simply hang out at the music listening station the entire time. I learned that expecting my co-workers to take data at a station was not a wise expectation. I also learned that I needed to teach the clients what was expected at each station because co-workers did not pay attention to directions AT ALL!

I often found that what I had planned was not enough to fill the entire session time. Good thing that I have an extensive TME library - I was able to fill in where things fell short. 

Another challenge that presented itself (which I knew going in, but really hoped that I wouldn't have to work with) was planning for a diverse population of clients. I found that centers could not be accomplished with all of my students when presented in only one manner. I HAVE to adapt things to accommodate the intellect of every client. This was a bit of a frustration for my clients - the ones who were unable to complete centers and the ones who completed centers really fast and had nothing else to do.

I am taking the lessons learned this summer into my current plan for centers in music therapy.

On January 8, 2018, my clients will be entering a music therapy room that will include centers. The first 30 minutes of music therapy treatment will be mine. I will use that time for regular music therapy stuff and to teach my clients how to play the center games. We've already learned how to work the listening station. I will demonstrate the "Must Do" and "May Do" elements of the first round of stations. I will introduce our interactive community notebooks and get started on our first pages. The second 30 minutes will be the clients'. During that time, they will get to explore the centers, make choices, engage as appropriate, and try things out.

During the first week, I want to introduce several new things. I will introduce the "Must Do" and "May Do" ideas to my group - once the "Must Do" is finished, then the clients can move to the "May Do" items on the list. I want to teach them to play War with music note cards. I want my clients to listen to three musical pieces and indicate their preference. I would like them to compose a short melody to play on an Orff instrument. My goal is for every client to accomplish something in a center during this week.

I have a list of "Must Do" and "May Do" experiences for each one of the centers. By the way, I have three center areas in my room - Explore, Learn, and Listen. The Listen center will not have many "May Do" things as I want my clients to listen to what I present and not engage in listening to other things - they already know how to do that and I want to know what they are choosing. The "Must Do" at the Explore station will include some sort of sensory exploration. I'm not sure what I am going to do in a week or so, but I have plenty of things to do. After they finish the "Must Do," they will be able to pick from a list of "May Do" situations including motor skill development challenges, fidget use, building with blocks, etc. The Learn center will have other "Must Do" and "May Do" elements - interactive notebooks, playing specific instruments, learning specific songs, etc.

For the moment, I am not worrying about developing unified themes. I am giving myself five months of developing ideas and skills without needing every little thing to link up before launching theme-based centers. I expect that I will be able to embed theme-related center ideas by May. Until then, I will focus my theme stuff in the MT-BC center stops and in my 30 minutes of therapy interaction with my students. (The theme for January 2018 is "Future and Occupations," just in case you were wondering.)

Here's hoping that plans will work with limited need for adaptations (but I know that adaptations will have to be made - that's the nature of working with humans).

Now, all I have to do is make 3 decks of note cards for our War game, and I'll be ready to go!

Thanks for going on this journey with me. We'll see how it works...

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