Sunday, June 23, 2013

Reuniting The Spark of Love

Mr. K was my first client in Thailand. I still remember that summer day we met; it was an afternoon filled with sunshine. He came to the session with his wife at the Mahidol University music therapy clinical room. He was sitting in a wheelchair with a clean shirt and his works pants. He greeted my partner Voonyin and I by waving his left hand, but with no facial expression.
 Mahidol University Music Therapy Clinical Room
Mr. K had a traumatic brain injury from a car accident four years ago. Before the accident, he was a successful businessman, who mastered three languages: English, Chinese, and Thai. Mr. K is now wheelchair-dependent with severe impairments in speech, fine and gross motor skills including the use of his hands, and cognitive areas. Emotionally, Mr. K is struggling with adjustment issues relating to his condition, including depression with significant bouts of anger, frustration and sleep difficulty. During the intake interview, his wife indicated that her only expectation of this music therapy treatment is to make her husband happier, and so she can have time for herself while he is in treatment.
In our first session, the first intervention Voonyin and I did was therapeutic singing. This provided an opportunity for Mr. K to practice his articulation. Prior to the intervention, he was unable to roll his tongue but after singing two familiar songs (“Sha La La La” and “Yesterday Once More”), he regained articulation control he once had. His wife was so amazed by his immediate progress that she decided to stay for the remainder of the session.
We continued to play a Chinese song, “Friends”, which is very famous and popular in most Asian countries. The lyrics describe a friendship: You are not alone because friends will always walk through those difficulties together. Mr. K recognized the song by humming the melody with us. His eyes were full of tears. After the song, we asked him if this song reminded him of his friends. He nodded his head and became more emotional. His wife came closer to wipe his tears, and told us they first met at a middle school in Malaysia. She told a couple of stories from their school years. Sometimes Mr. K wept and sometimes he laughed during the stories. He could not say any words to express his feelings, but I saw he was holding his wife’s hand tighter.
The next song we sang was one of Mr. K’s favorites, “The Moon Represents My Heart”. We chose this song because Mr. K was unable to express his love and appreciation for his wife due to his speech impairment. The moon was a symbol of the most beloved one in the world. During the song, we encouraged him to sing some verbs and nouns with us, such as “ask”, “think”, “love”, “moon”, “heart”, etc. His eye contact never left his wife while singing the song. The song triggered memories of love for his wife. He made a connection between the emotion of love in the song and his love for his wife, evident by his replacement of lyrics in the song with his wife’s name. At the end of the song, he wrapped his arm around her, kissing her and saying 我愛你 (I love you). 
This moment was especially meaningful because in the Asian culture it is uncommon for this public display of affection. The lyric analysis encouraged a deeper look at meanings and symbolism in the lyrics, enhancing the emotional and romantic connection between the couple, a connection that has not been present for the past four years due to Mr. K’s injury.
Being a caregiver for your loved one adds an entirely new complexity to a relationship and can be one of the most demanding and exhausting roles one must take on. With this, it is quite understandable that Mr. K’s wife wanted to drop him off and take some time for herself. The emotions and relationship building that resulted from this session are examples of outcomes that are unexpected inmusic therapy treatment (especially to the unfamiliar eye), but some of the most important work we do as music therapists.
When cognitive and communication skills are compromised, music can facilitate a language of love, repairing and fostering feelings and emotions that make some of the most taxing days bearable. While Voonyin and I only met with Mr. K and his wife for two sessions, we are leaving Thailand knowing that their love for each other has a new spark in it. A spark that will remain between them in their journey of life as ONE. 

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