Saturday, July 9, 2011

Let the Music Work

Hi, my name is Amanda Wiggans and I am from Macon, MO. I just finished my first year as a graduate-equivalency student at the University of Kansas.

Last week was the start of the second full week of clinical practicum for us in Thailand. Though it may sound silly, looking back to the first week, we have greatly improved as a whole. Last Monday we sat in a weekly class meeting with Dr. Dena with wide eyes and frightened faces. She promised us that it would be okay, but I don’t think any of us fully trusted her until we actually got into the clinic with clients. My first session was last Wednesday at the Sirindhorn Rehabilitation Clinic in the Adult Day Care PT group. This group consisted of 10-15 older adults, usually accompanied by their caretakers. My group and I had an organized, tightly scheduled session ready to execute, but it was apparent that we would have to either cut applications short or adapt applications in order to fit the client’s needs. Applications are short musical interventions, which are used to achieve non-musical goals. For example, these interventions may include song writing to encourage self-expression, movement and music to improve muscle tone or endurance. This spontaneity combined with not knowing much Thai made us all very nervous and apprehensive about directly interacting with the clients. The session ended up being very successful and fun for the clients, but from the therapist point of view, we knew we very lacking in some areas. As a group, we were more focused on ourselves, executing applications and we were basically running around like chickens with our heads cut off. But what for? In retrospect, we realized that clients did not care if we sang a phrase a little flat or if an applications did not go quite as planned. They were simply happy we were there with them, engaging with them.

Later in the week I had another group session with a different adult group at the PT school on campus. For this session, we planned applications but left room for serious adaptations or changes to the musical interventions if need be. We also didn’t stress out about it as much and went into the session with a more relaxed point of view, ready to sincerely engage with clients and “go with the flow”. I individually interacted and assisted an elderly client during the whole session, which initially made me feel a little nervous. The client was able to speak English rather well, and was very happy that I came to sit with him. As soon as I sat down, my nerves faded, as did the need to use verbal language. For the first time since we had been doing sessions we let the music do the work. It was amazing to see how easy it was to facilitate a session when we allowed the music to do the work instead of us trying to make everything work in a way that we could control. Even the patients in the treatment room who were not participating in the session became very interested in what we were doing, and some patients even began to move to the music and sing along with us.

Looking back, I can see how important surrendering a certain amount of control can be in a music therapy session. Once we gave up preconceived notions and expectations and went with the flow, the music therapy session began to take shape in a much more relaxed and positive light. It became clear to us that non-verbal behaviors were as important as verbal ones, and that an important and valuable connection between the client and therapist can still be made. What is an area in your life where you think giving up control and expectations could work positively for you? How do you know the difference between being unprepared and going with the flow?


  1. Can imagine your first situation of "we were basically running around like chickens with our heads cut off" I like it!!

  2. Amanda, adjusting to letting go of control was VERY hard for me. (Big surprise, huh?) I think you're correct in the things you've pointed out though. One of the biggest gains I think I made through the program is the ability to go with the flow and generally freak out less. I love, too, how you point out that even if an application doesn't go exactly as planned we can still find things that went well. That was definitely a struggle for me.

  3. I think we all learned a lot about going with the flow in sessions in Thailand! It definitely was a challenge for me to find the balance between being prepared for sessions but also as you said, letting the music do the work and adapting to whatever the client needed.
    I find this attitude is helpful in life in general - relationships, school, work, etc. We can definitely work hard and aim for goals but ultimately we realize we're not totally in control! I once had someone tell me the only thing you are guaranteed control over is your reaction to life, and living by that helps me be a lot less stressed! Like I said of course I have goals and dreams, but I realize if something changes outside of my control, it is the way it is and I need to adapt to it! Thanks for you post!

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