Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Working Together with Flexibility

In my last blog I wrote about community. Now the sense of community I have found is being put to the test by working with other students in a clinical setting.

I am used to having partners in practicum at school. We planned and practiced together, implemented the session together, and processed together with our supervisor. Everything at school was structured and done on a regimented time schedule. I quickly was comfortable working in this way, even though it did not always seem realistic. It was easy to compartmentalize populations I was working with. For instance, each semester I would focus on a different population, such as children with autism. The population would change every semester, and I could shift my lens of focus from one area of music therapy to another. 

In Thailand, things are different for us as students for several reasons. Culturally, time is different here. People in Thailand do not worry about being on time as much as in the United States. Therefore, our practicum sessions are not strictly sixty minutes each. They vary upon the weather, the clients’ energy levels, and whether or not they have arrived The people we see are not always in a uniform population or age range. Yesterday I saw kids with cerebral palsy, visual impairments, developmental delays, or a combination of these diagnoses. Sometimes I am not even aware of the diagnosis of a particular client I am observing or working with. For the group I observed at the hospital, the clients were expected to be older adults, but when we arrived there were more young adults. We can expect nothing to be what is expected, whether it be time or population.

I think both of my different clinical experiences in the United States and in Thailand have been valuable learning opportunities for me. I learned basic clinical skills that included using music therapy techniques with clients and working with colleagues. My experience in Thailand has built upon the skills I already have from the United States, especially in flexibility. The time and client fluctuations have been more of a challenge for me. Sometimes the session plan will not be entirely appropriate for the clients who are there. Sometimes the session does not start and end or last as long as expected. Adding to this challenge, I am working in cooperation with other music therapy students. Since we work as a team, no one person can make all of the decisions. If I think another music therapy technique would be better for a client, it is up to me to communicate with my team members to make that change. On the other hand, sometimes I have to gauge whether I am taking too much of a leadership role. It is important to step back and give my peers a chance to take initiative as well. Working in these situations really gives me practice in flexibility and balance of leadership roles.

I think that the clinical experience I am receiving in Thailand is giving me a realistic view of what music therapy looks like outside of the academic setting. The United States will have the same time and client fluctuations in the workplace. I will have new colleagues to work with; I know I will never treat a client without working with other colleagues in some way. Working and observing on this trip is preparing me for the realities I will face in my internship next year and in my future career as a music therapist.

I am interested to know what similar challenges you have faced.

A group of puppeteers we saw at King Power in Bankok working together fluidly to create beautiful results. I think they have the potential to be great music therapists!


  1. I'm glad you've been learning so much abotu flexibility and excited that you'll have this experience before starting your internship! I feel very similar about balancing out many aspects of working in a group - I never want to lead too much of the time and make sure others get a chance as well. I also want to make sure everyone gets a chance to express their opinion of what will be most efective for the clients, but often I'm not quick enough to speak up myself so I've been learning how to be a little more assertive because each of our ideas are equally important!

  2. Sara, I feel like you're writing this post from my point of view too. Learning to be flexible and adjust has been a challenge, as has learning to work in a group with people whose opinions differ from mine. I feel like this experience has made me a stronger person in that I can go with the flow and adjust more quickly than I could before. I feel like that is valuable for anyone, especially for us when we are in a career field where that can be so crucial.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly! In looking back on our clinical experience, it was incredible how much flexibility we had to have. Would we have any kids, one kid, six kids? Sometimes a kid and their parent could only stay in the session for ten minutes or sometimes they wanted us to keep going for well over an hour. It was all (practicum and just life in Thailand) about adaptability, which was an excellent lesson for me as I can be too reliant on schedules and planning.