Balancing Our Thoughts

Every so often, it’s exciting to reflect on how my skills as a music therapist have changed from student, to intern, to new professional. Luckily, I can clearly see progress and improvement throughout the years. Today was one of those days where I was both proud of, and discouraged by, my abilities to conduct a successful group session. You know how that dichotomy goes? Proud of the improvements I have made, and challenged by the growth I hope will continue.

Sometimes it’s the little things that stop me. Not only was I happy today with the way I gave directions to one of my groups that needs strong structure, but I saw clearly how I’ve become more authoritative when a group member is off-task or acting inappropriately. I’ve always had the natural instinct to praise clients when they’re doing a great job, but the assertive voice you need to gain respect and control of the group is not as easy. Today was a success. [This particular client was laughing his head off at his idea to “play your instrument in your armpit” when we were brainstorming ideas of new ways to play. Naturally, the armpit lead to various other body parts…]

Back as an intern (and certainly as a student) I would have let it slide, or panicked internally on what I should do, or how I should address it. Today required no thought at all. It was almost second nature.


I always try and balance these thoughts with the ones where I’m discouraged by something I did. It’s easy to get lost in the ways you can improve, especially when I’m working with a client who has no verbal communication, or you feel like nothing you do is “working”. I’ve had a huge challenge with one particular client who has a TBI. She’s not the challenge. How I conduct the most effective music therapy for her is the challenge. She’s a delight and amazing person to work with, but more often than not, I leave her session saying, “what in the world did I do today and was it beneficial at all”? 

I am constantly reminded to “look at the bigger picture” and not worry about whether or not she is responding to every detail of the session. But how can I not do both? Of course I look at the bigger picture and the long-term goals, but aren’t we also as therapists meant to constantly assess, re-assess, and assess again? Never before have I worked with a client who’s response to music therapy was so gradual and it can often be disheartening.

I then have to ask myself, is it disheartening because I want her to improve from her condition faster or because I want to be “a great music therapist”…?

I think…to be a great music therapist means to sit in the discomfort of slow progress and be comfortable.

I’m going back to school in the fall to pursue my master’s in music therapy largely in part because every time I question myself or music therapy (which is often), I want to know if there was something more I could have understood or known in the moment. At this rate, I will be a forever-student, because, how will I ever have all of the answers? I think that as music therapists, we need to constantly be questioning ourselves and to never allow ourselves to settle with our abilities and skills.

But in doing this, we can’t forget to praise ourselves often, like we do our clients.

This is how I at least know that I can flourishingly stop an armpit song from becoming another kind of song; all in day’s work.


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