Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Bridge

Hello friends! Michael Detmer here. Thanks for following our music therapy blog during our study abroad trip to Thailand. Make sure to check out the earlier postings to learn a little more about each one of us and our cultural experience in Thailand thus far.

Long before I applied to graduate school at KU for music therapy, I realized the powerful effects of music as therapy and the way it can empower and strengthen individuals in ways unimagined. Music can be used to treat and improve physical and mental health, as well as aid in social, spiritual, and intellectual development. It wasn't until this trip though, that I found how all of these components fit together in a complex, but beautiful, puzzle when cultural and social considerations are added to the mix.

I have found that music therapy creates bridges. Whether these bridges are to recovery, improved health, stronger relationships with family, or to an unexpected outcome, they form the principles by which music therapist's work. Last week in my session in the pediatric palliative care unit in Siriraj hospital, I worked with a 10-month-old child and her caregiver. While a "normal" music therapy session is very hard to define since interventions are individualized for each client, I can say that from my experience in the US it would be "normal" to have a conversation with the client(s) and/or caregiver in the beginning of the session. I can also say my "normal" usually includes questions, discussion, and some reflection during the session. Facilitating a therapy session abroad, however, is far from my understanding of what a "normal" music therapy session should look like, particularly due to the language barrier.

How do I introduce myself? How do I ask how their day has been? How do I know if the baby has been experiencing pain? Knowing I couldn't find answers to these questions through "normal" discussion, I trusted in the music to be the bridge in building this relationship and facilitating this session, creating a NEW NORMAL for me.

My goals for this client were to help normalize the hospital environemnt and provide stimulating and meaningful interaction between the child and the caregiver. There was success in both areas! So much information and communication was shared only using the music and the silence. During the session, I laughed with the caregiver and the child, we had a "call and response" conversation on a drum, I nonverbally encouraged the caregiver to be a part of the session, I noticed the baby maintained eye contact with me, and I saw the caregiver and the baby smiling and interacting with each other. This all happened only using "Sawasdee Krab" (Hello) and an occasional "Dii Maak" (Very Good) and "Suht Yat" (Awesome), and it was one of the most rewarding sessions I've ever had. Language doesn't have to exist in therapy when music is present because the MUSIC bridges the language barrier. 

After the session, I was organizing and cleaning up the instruments while waiting in the other room. The caregiver and child came walking out of their wing and the child immediately made eye contact with me and, with the help of the caregiver, quickly stumbled over to me. The two, both whom I just met and interacted for a mere 20 minutes using very limited Thai, were already attached to me. Here, is where the music formed a bridge, helping to develop a therapeutic relationship. The caregiver and child proceeded to sit on the floor in the hall with me as we played more on the drum. I couldn't have been happier. The caregiver, child, and I were all smiling in joy. Joy built by a bridge through music.

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