Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Finding the Balance of the Vessel

Hello, once again, blog readers and classmates! As a reintroduction, I am Melissa Hill and I am a senior studying music therapy and music education at the University of Kansas.

While in Thailand, our class had a handful of discussions that left me with a great deal to think about upon my return home. Many of these discussions were philosophically-based since we each come from different places and viewpoints in relation to music therapy and we are all in different places in our personal and professional development. But Dr. Register helped us begin thinking about some incredibly difficult questions—the kind that a life-altering experience such as studying abroad might inspire. For instance, we spent time as a group discussing our life goals and purposes and how we define ourselves. One of the philosophies that resonates with me most after our class discussions is one that relates to finding and maintaining the “balance of the vessel”. There can’t be a vessel that we keep pouring out of without ever replenishing; we, as therapists, cannot continuously “give” to others through our professional and personal support without taking some support and counseling in return. A lack of such balance could potentially lead to burn-out and career frustration. We even discussed how healthy it might be for therapists to seek help from other therapists. In my clinical experiences abroad, this discussion stayed with me and led me to try something new in my sessions that made a huge impact on how I feel while leading a session.

For those that were not with me in Thailand, I will describe part of my clinical experience in Thailand before returning to the philosophy mentioned above. On Tuesday mornings,our class headed to Sirindhorn Rehabilitation Center in Bangkok to see a group of individuals in an “adult day-care” setting. The group encompasses individuals who are recovering from neurological trauma—typically individuals affected by strokes. While Tuesday mornings in this area of Sirindhorn are typically reserved for the adults to play fun games and sports, we (myself, Rianne Matthews, and our Thai friend Karn) were invited to incorporate music into these activities. The rehabilitation group seemed overjoyed to have us visit their facility and appeared thrilled to hear us attempt Thai phrases and songs as well as singing some Western music. After watching a session recording, I noticed that I looked nervous and afraid of the language barrier. But I also noticed that my smiles to the group, as well as the smiles that I received back, communicated on their own. I always thought of music as the international language but I realized that smiles and laughter can have the same universality. I talked with a few classmates one day and we came to a general consensus that we would genuinely miss the groups that we were fortunate enough to work with in Thailand—maybe to an even greater extent than any of us have felt at home at the end of a practicum semester. But I still was not sure if the amount of emotional effort that I put into the session was matching the amount of feedback that I felt in return from the patients, despite that feedback was present; I was preoccupied with my failures and how my efforts might have been perceived by clients and caregivers.

After our class discussions, I started to think about how I could help myself maintain the “balance of the vessel”, or a healthy balance of giving and receiving. My conclusion was that I could simply try to accept and receive the smiles that were returned to me when I gave a smile. I tried realizing this and putting my theory into action—which worked wonders on how I felt after the session! Then I tried more; I approached some individuals after the session and talked to them about various things from music to America to reasons why I love Thailand. And the feedback that I received about the music therapy sessions and the discussions that were had proved to be yet more invaluable experiences of which I could be the recipient. I hope that the patients at Sirindhorn Rehabilitation Center will take something from our music therapy sessions together because I certainly took many things home with me, including precious memories of smiles and stories. This is how I found a healthy balance of giving and receiving during my clinical experience in Thailand, which is a philosophy and technique that I hope to bring back home.

The question I have for all blog readers is this: how will you maintain the balance of the vessel in your personal and professional life (how do you feel about therapists receiving therapy, what techniques have worked for you, how do you anticipate avoiding burnout, etc.)?

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