Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mai Bpen Rai

Hi, my name is Rianne Matthews. I am a music therapy student from Colorado State University and, now that I’ve returned to the US, I am with my family in a small bluegrass-friendly town outside of Boulder.
“Mai bpen rai.” It’s a phrase you hear a lot in Thailand that, loosely, translates to “no worries”. It permeates everything from a standard “you’re welcome” to loose concepts of time to high levels of tolerance and patience. This past week I learned how much I want to incorporate a little more “Mai bpen rai” into my life now that I’m back in America.
            Each July, there is a week-long music camp that allows middle school and high school students to participate in rehearsals, classes, concerts, and social experiences that help them to grow as musicians. I am very fortunate in that this is the third year I’ve been a camp counselor there. However, this year was the most stressful that I have experienced. There was a combination of both average (though frustrating) drama of 8th grade girls and the unexpected, over the top conduct instances that required us to make frequent contact with local police authorities. Unfortunately, luck had it that I ended up dealing with many of these situations directly and the result was a feeling of more stress, anger, and general emotional distress than I had ever dealt with before.
            Upon reflection of this week, a few simple realizations came to me. The 1st: I couldn’t change any of the chaos that happened. The 2nd: I could’ve changed the way I reacted. True, it’s difficult to be calm and happy when it feels like all Hell is breaking loose around you. However, I could’ve kept a “mai bpen rai” attitude and, instead of dwelling on the things that didn’t go right, move forward with an air of acceptance and forgiveness.
           As the type of person with a Type A personality, I have a hard time accepting things that are outside of my control and strive for perfection. I need to learn to take some of that easygoing attitude I was so surrounded with (and had started to utilize) in my Thailand experience and bring it back to real life circumstances. True, it’s very difficult. Coming back to the environment where I was so used to being hyper-perfection oriented made me forget that I had ever begun to learn any differently. All the same it can be important to decreasing the stress in an individual and to increasing the general wellbeing of everyone that individual has some sort of interaction with.
            I hope that you all will be able to begin incorporating some more relaxed thinking into whatever it is you do. Ask yourself: does this really matter? Be as willing to forgive the mistakes of other people as you would want them to be forgiving of you – or rather more so. Take some time to breathe and enjoy some good food and some time outdoors. Do whatever you can to go with the flow whenever you can.
            How can we teach ourselves to go from rapid-pace chaos thinking to “Mai bpen rai”?


Monday, August 15, 2011

To Make a Life Different

"How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference?"
This is not a question from me; this is the title of a book that we used in this Thailand trip. To be honest, when Dr. Dena asked us to buy this book, I laughed. In nature, I’m not the type of person who’s good at thinking about something; I’m better at just doing something. Indeed, my experience of using this book was quite painful, because I had no idea how to answer those deep and big philosophical questions. Even right now, typing this blog is murdering my brain cells; I’m just so poor at analyzing myself and exposing my thoughts. But I told myself, this is what I have to do. If I want to give a meaning to all these days in Thailand, if I want to find an answer for what I should do after this trip, if I want to mark down this milestone in my life … I have to type all these words out.
Genes, education, and environment built my competitive and ambitious personality. In my mind, my life cannot be mediocre and common; my life must be different and outstanding, otherwise, it has no meaning. Indeed, before entering college, I was always the top student in all areas and had never really met any big challenges. However, the college life in US was much more difficult than I had ever expected. The first weekend in US, I walked three hours to Walmart because I didn’t know buses would not run on Sunday, and of course there was no taxi on road. The first week after school started, I slept for only 15 hours in the whole week in order to understand all the lectures and finish all the assignments. The first Thanksgiving at KU, I stayed in a temporary dorm room alone for seven days, and apples and donuts were the only food I had. The first final week in college, I kept awake for 40 hours to prepare for all the exams. The first summer break at home, I was hospitalized three times, because overwhelmed stress and unfamiliar environment destroyed my health … Slowly, I began to doubt my decision. Why did I choose to study in a foreign country that has completely different culture? Why did I choose to be away from my family? Why did I choose to make my life so hard? If I didn’t decide to be a music therapist, would my life be easier and happier? Is this what I really want to do for my entire life?
I kept questioning myself. My stress was accumulated and finally reached the top last year, when I started my practicum at school and found out how difficult it was for an international student. Right before going to Thailand this summer, I just had a battle with my parents about my future, and got on the plane with tears in my eyes.
During the first week in Thailand, I was not doing very well. Besides all the environmental issues and life difficulties, I still remembered that in my first Thailand trip in 2008, I was the only one in the group who could not contribute very much in discussions. Those embarrassing memories pushed me to an anxious and depressed mood. However, the situation changed in our first observation in Sirindhorn rehabilitation center. In the session with a group of adults, Karn used a Chinese song which was very popular in 70’s. When I heard the familiar music, I was so shocked that I almost jumped up. I would never imagine hearing such a song in such a situation! With questions in my heart, after the session, I privately asked Karn why he chose this recorded music instead of popular Thai songs. He told me that many of these clients were immigrants from China; they really loved those songs.
Well then, will it be the only opportunity for me to contribute to this trip?
Once having this idea, I started to plan my clinical work. I tried to convince my teammate that Chinese songs would be very effective for this population, and I got great support from them. I talked with Karn about what songs I could use and how I should use them. I spent hours to loop a song and memorized all the lyrics. Then, on the first day I led the session with older adults, I knew I found something. Just like a firework was released in the darkness, a new way was lightened for me. I realized, although language was always my biggest weakness, when the cultural barrier was crossed, I could be equally good, or even better than everyone else. I finally found my place and value, because this was something that only I could do.
The success of first clinical experience brought me great confidence, which was so important for me at that time. In following practicum, I became more open and more creative. Also, because my worries about language and culture were released, I became more cooperative in group work. My effort was rewarded by all kinds of touching moments. In my journals, following notes began to appear –
“Jun. 14 – today, a gentleman requested me to sing a song for the group, even though I was not leading the session. He said my singing was No. 1!”
“Jun. 28 – today, an old lady cried when I started singing. She had no facial expression at all before. Her daughter told me she was very happy to hear these songs again.”
“Jun. 30 – today is the last day for clinical work. The nurse spoke with me in Chinese, “Xie xie, ni de ge hen hao ting (Meaning: Thank you. Your singing was great.).”
The last night before leaving Thailand, I opened my journals, reviewed all the words and all those moments. Suddenly, a lightning crashed in my heart – isn’t it the answer I have been looking for?
So far in my life, I had spent so much time to chase after glories, to compete with everyone else, to make my life different and meaningful. I had spent so much time to move toward my goal, but ignored the pleasure and joy along the road. I had spent so much time to push myself higher and higher, but forgot to take a break and really think about what I wanted.
Maybe, just maybe, after hearing my songs, these clients will have a sweet dream. They may recall some old memories about hometown and chatter with their families. Or maybe after a long time, they might still remember that one day, a young music therapist from China sang a song for them and brought them pleasure – and they may not know that, the young therapist from China, will also remember their smiles forever.
How lucky I am to witness their joy? How lucky I am to bring pleasure to so many people? How many people will be as lucky as me, to have the chance to participate in the process of change a person’s life?
And now I am sure, there will be no way for me to abandon music therapy, because I would never get the same pleasure and excitement from anywhere else.
How many people does it take to make a difference?
To be honest … I don’t know.
But I can say, when I am making others’ life different, my life is also becoming different.

Question: What is one thing that you value most or motivates you the most in your current life?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Body Speaks

Traditional Thai massage is one of my favorite things in Thailand. A typical Thai massage is often a great treat for senses - lying in a room filled with aroma and dim light, having soft Thai clothes covered on body, and experiencing the massage from toe to head – those often make the most enjoyable moment during the journey.
Before getting a Thai massage, communication was one of my concerns, because most massagists do not speak English very well. Some of them were able to use simple words to give directions, such as “sit” and “turn over”; some of them could not speak English at all. This means that I was not able to tell massagist how I feel and what I would like her to do. But later I found out that communication was not an issue that I should worry about, because my body can speak for me. For example, when a massagist was massaging my leg one day, she caused pain to my ankle because that area was hit by a stone one week ago. I did not cry out or even say a word, but I contracted my muscles and took a sharp breath. Surprisingly, the massagist immediately changed her touch from strong to soft so that the pain did not happen any more. Later, I realized that the training and experience they had allowed them to accurately read body signals and quickly make responses.
So, why did I spend so long to talk about Thai massage in a clinical blog?
This is because, during my clinical experience in Thailand, I realized that music therapy could be so similar to a massage.
Before having practicum with children in Thailand, communication was my biggest concern: I was never good at communicating with children, especially young children who could not understand English or Chinese at all. However, I totally changed my mind after working with a young girl in Sirindhorn hospital. In the beginning of the session, the client was very cooperative and engaged. She enjoyed music a lot and could often understand our directions when giving hand gestures and modeling. The only issue we were concerned was her right arm was not as functional as left arm; moreover, she seemed not willing to practice her right arm. In a drumming application, she could use her left arm to chase and play the drum very well, but when I put the mallet in her right hand, she stopped engaging and often wanted to change hands. I tried to make her keep using right arm, but still failed.
- If I’m facing an American child right now, I can use reinforcement to motivate her. But what can I do now?
It was my first thought at that moment, which made me a little bit upset. The session moved on to a parachute application. All therapists and her mother helped her move the parachute together. According to our original plan, client should go under the parachute while therapists and parents were holding the parachute up and play with peers. However, because of the language issue, she could not understand what we wanted her to do. We tried to model her to go under the parachute, but it was not very effective.
At that time, I suddenly saw a turtle toy that we brought to session. I picked it up and put it on my hand. Then, when the parachute was raised, I went under it and used the toy to touch her toes.
- She looked down and found the toy. She opened her eyes wide, and a big smile was showed on her face.
She liked it. Will this be a chance?
The idea came out without thinking too much. The parachute was raised again, and one more time, I touched her feet with the turtle. She giggled and tried to reach the turtle with her left hand. Then I knew the toy could be a great motivation for her. I picked up a bell stick and put it in her right hand. She looked confused and didn’t know what to do. I reached to her, made the turtle nod its head on the bell stick to make sound, and pulled it back. She watched what was happening. After a few times, she suddenly understood what she could do, and the magical moment happened - she moved her right arm, and knocked the bell on the turtle.
What happened after this changing point was amazing. My awesome teammates immediately responded and began to sing a turtle song to cooperate. I used the turtle to cue her move her right arm up and down and cross the midline. The session was expended at least 10 more minutes. Our little client kept playing with the toy using her right arm; she was so happy and so excited that she did not even feel tired. Just like magic happened, the problem that bothered us didn’t exist any more!
At the end of that session, I lay on the floor, and began to feel shameful about myself. How could I use the difficulty of verbal communication as an excuse to escape? I recalled what my supervisor told me before I had my very first session, “The only thing you need to remember is, when you enter the room, it’s all about them, and nothing about you. Then you’ll be fine.” I finally understood that. If I put all my focus on the clients, read their body, read their responses, be concerned about their needs … there is no way of not making a good session.
Question: Have you ever met a situation that language did not work at all? What did you do to communicate?

Friday, August 12, 2011

How was it?

I graduated high school in 2006, and then I lived in Israel for 9 months as a gap-year program. During my final month in Israel, I was troubled with the idea that, when asked about my trip, my innumerable experiences would be condensed into a few sentences (if not solely, “It was good.”). As the Thailand program was reaching its end, I assumed the same question/answer dilemma would arise upon my return. However, in my couple of weeks of digesting the experience, I have realized some very important principles that I got out of the experience; both from actual lessons provided by our instructor, as well as those from other external/internal foundations. From my review of my own experience, I have been more competent in my response to the aforementioned question.

Perspective: It is difficult for one to see everything from the inside, and Thailand offered me a great opportunity to adjudicate many aspects of my life. I was removed from my usual social connections, time obligations, and familiar sources of comfort as well as sources of anxiety. From this removal, I was able to understand parts of myself in their raw forms; how I deal with situations, levels of impulsivity, how I form and maintain friendships, my path of professionalism, among others. To divulge into this information would be lengthy, but there are a few specific concepts I would like to mention:

Judgment: On the first morning we were all provided a page of reading involving the concept of judging others. This sparked an idea inside of myself that I had not considered in some time, the idea that I need to mentally evolve as a human being and push aside unfair generalizations based on previous experiences and/or the opinions of others. This is much easier said than done, and it will continue to be a struggle. However, I know that I am on the right path of introspection on my immediate impressions of others.

Flavor: I loved the food in Thailand. I am now a much stronger eater when it comes to spicy food. More importantly, I realized how fun it is to be adventurous when in a new location. Trying new things, whether eating things that looked questionable (which was common) to climbing trees, to being beat up by an elephant (which totally happened) is a BLAST!

Don’t take anything personally: This concept was introduced to me directly before the program by one of my best friends from home, Hannah. She read a book called the four agreements and told me about one tenant within the book, “don’t take anything personally.” I figured that was nice and everything, but impossible. As we continued to discuss the concept, I realized how beneficial it would be to be able to listen to others’ opinions, even when presented unprofessionally or hurtfully, and understand that their message is not solely their opinion, but their opinion through the filters of their experience. These experiences could be known or unknown subjects, anything from being in a bad mood that day to having four professional degrees in the area being discussed.

I had a few situations during my time in Thailand in which I was presented with information, whether constructive or non-constructive, that I would have previously recognized as some level of hurtful. Through the course of the program (including a Skype conversation with Hannah in which I discussed the concept directly related to a situation) I was able to become progressively more successful in this concept; I also want to buy the book and learn more of the “agreements.”

“Stop making barriers”: An aspect upon which I would like to improve would be that I create barriers. What this means is that I find problems with a situation, a music therapy application, an experience, etc… that need not be considered as a problem. I am generally not a fan of “making excuses,” and perhaps that is why I make barriers; it’s an internal excuse disguised as an external problem. By not allowing barriers to get in the way of the big picture, I will be able to be a more successful professional, student, and friend.

Now, following my experience in Thailand, how do I answer the question, “How was it?”

“I learned a lot.”

Think about a time in your life that you returned from an experience to an audience of friends, family, etc. that had not been present for the experience itself. How did you answer their questions? If you were to answer the question “How was it” in the most concise yet true-to-experience way possible, what would it have been?

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.)?