Friday, June 17, 2011

Turning the Corner

Hello, my name is Rianne Matthews and I am a music therapy student from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. I am most interested in working in neurologic rehabilitation with patients who are recovering from stroke, who have experienced traumatic brain injury, or who have been diagnosed with neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s and MS.

The past few days, we have all been thrown headfirst into clinical music therapy sessions where we’ve had to work through group-planning, finding appropriate songs and materials, battling a language barrier, and thinking on our feet. This much alone is tiring; add this to the fact that many of us have differing views on some aspects of music therapy and it becomes exhausting. Although it sounds as though many of our professors back home try to get us to think for ourselves whenever possible and although Dr. Dena has been encouraging us to spend more time on the “dance floor” and less on the “balcony”, I think that many of us are used to much more comfort and a little bit of hand-holding in our clinical experience thus far. (Keep in mind that I can speak reliably only for myself. This may not match the views of the entire group.)

Yesterday, however, we started to hit our stride more than in the past. As Dr. Dena put it, we “turned a corner”. For many of us, we are used to thinking about the things we need individually. What is it that I am leading? What is it that I am comfortable with? How am I going to get the hours or experience that I need? I know on my part I was so concerned about how I was presenting myself professionally to my peers that I often forgot to dig in and get up close with clients, which is one of the things I love most about music therapy in the first place.

I’m not certain what changed specifically. Perhaps it was the size of the group (smaller than the ones we’ve worked with thus far) or perhaps we were more comfortable after being in clinical sites for a few days, or perhaps it was something in the air. Whatever the cause was, the team of us seemed to buckle down and work as a single functioning unit that focused on the needs and reactions of the clients. Transitions were smooth, instruments and tools were wordlessly passed, and we all stepped in where necessary. We had bright faces rather than fearful ones and stepped forward to interact individually with clients in whatever ways possible, often without words and letting eye contact and music to do all of our communicating for us.

Our reward for this new mindset? Smiles from both clients and treatment staff and joyful voices throughout the group. We had a number of clients who could not wait to sing and were so eager to join us that they set aside the tasks they were doing at the time. We were informed by Karn, one of the music therapists Dr. Dena works with at Mahidol, that one client had demonstrated very little movement or engagement in previous music therapy sessions; this time, he was alert and participating the entire time. Hearing that we make a huge difference, even if it is only for a short time, is incredibly gratifying and like manna to the hungry of heart.

Are there any strategies you use for putting your needs aside for the needs of the group? What results do you find?


  1. Wow! Sounds like all of you had a wonderfully productive day -- and so did the clients!

    As an academic librarian, I work to keep the needs of our students and faculty above all, and when I suggest change or doing something differently, I'm careful to couch it in those terms. It can be a struggle at times to keep that ahead of what *I* want to do or have happen! Not a MT example, but there are some parallels.

  2. Usually I find that when I'm frustrated or struggling with a group, it's because I'm only thinking about my need to be right, or believing that my expectation is what's best at the time. So instead I try to realize that whatever is currently happening may be what's most needed at the time, so I'll be patient and not try to direct things as I think they should - we all have different backgrounds and input that can help create a meaningful experience for clients!

  3. When I find that I am thinking about myself too much during sessions, it is due to a lack of confidence in what I'm doing. Perhaps it's a new population or setting, I'm trying different guitar chords or using new instruments, or I simply did not go over my session plan enough beforehand. But I've found that once I can calm down and feel more comfortable and confident, I can more successfully focus on the clients and their needs. But that's just been my (minimal) experience!