The Truth About Session Planning

I must admit, before this winter, I had not session planned the old fashioned way in quite some time. Meaning, I actually planned ahead in advance what I was going to do moment-to-moment in my session. I had not done this in a long time as I had been in the medical and hospice setting before, for which I never could plan. I began to session plan again when I started a contract with two adult groups with IDD at a local agency. I knew these groups would be larger (approx. 15 people each group), so I didn’t want to start off with a lack of structure. It had been awhile since I had worked solely with this population, so I was feeling a bit rusty. I hadn’t created session plans more detailed than a couple of ideas jotted down since being a student, and I was surprised at how much effort it took!

I found myself becoming frustrated with the lack of resources available to garner new ideas and fresh inspiration to create. I, of course, had my go-to interventions and activities up my sleeve, but quickly realized those would only last me a session or two before they ran out and were repeated. Working with adults versus children with IDD was quickly becoming an anomaly that I found other MTs had been struggling with as well.

You would think that, with this powerful and limitless thing called the internet, finding inspiration would not be that difficult. In reality, it is. I’ve been working with these particular groups for about 2 months now, and often find myself spending hours creating their session plans. Maybe this says multiple things about myself, but here is what I’ve come to know as true about session planning:

1. Session planning = perfectionism. This is usually viewed as a negative aspect, but perfectionism is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to planning. I simply want to have a purpose for coming to see these particular adults and, conversely, I want them have some benefit from attending the group. When it can become negative is when you lose sight of your goals for the sake of having a “beautiful” and “seamless” session plan.

2. Some ideas are bad ideas. Let’s be honest. How many bad ideas do we think of before a great one pops out? What I mean by this is, some existing ideas out in the internet-osphere (and in our brains) are not quite finished. When I’m sparked by an idea created by someone else, this is usually a wonderful step in my planning, as I have found a nugget of inspiration to take on this particular idea and expand. How many songs do we write that have a Part B missing?!? Part A is excellent, but then you find yourself leaning towards, “And now what…?” after the song (Part A) has ended. I have found that there are a lot of half-finished ideas floating around, which is totally fair and totally human. I know from experience how many half-finished ideas I have, and how many have unfortunately been used in the moment, or embarrassingly so, in a session plan. Sometimes my time spent looking for inspiration leads me to spending an hour or two writing a new song/intervention/activity.

3. Themed sessions for groups are the bomb (TBH). I admit it, I’m a sucker for a good theme. I have heard some comments in the past arguing against themed sessions, saying that they’re “childish” or “cheesy”. I agree to some extent, however, if there isn’t the slightest of themes, where do you find the continuity and structure in your planned session? I ask this particularly because when working with adults with IDD, the range of abilities can be so severe. For the most part, I’ve been working with clients who are verbal, fairly expressive, and have limited physical complications. This allows me to do a lot with them, but their needs/desires/wants/musical preferences can still vary widely. I’ve found that if you don’t come in immediately saying “this is what we are doing today” then you are in for a world of “can we do this?”‘s. Some themes may be cheesy or not quite age-appropriate. But this just means that you have to work a little harder to find what IS age-appropriate and not cheesy for your chosen theme.

4. Don’t be discouraged by the amount of work you do for $0.00. Some of us are very lucky and have time in our paid work day for planning. Others of us wonder, “Who are these people and why don’t I have their job”? This can often be so. discouraging. I can’t tell you the number of times when I sat down to create my session plans for the week, and 4 hours later, I still had no idea what I was planning. Oh wait, that happens every week. In reality, I have to keep in mind that those 4 hours were not wasted, as I was researching client pathologies, reading MT articles, searching Pinterest for ideas on related activities, practicing One Direction for a client preferred song, etc. In all that time, I may or may not have produced a completed session plan, but my brain was collecting new information to sort, filter, and save for future conversations, original interventions, and, you got it, session plans. We have to remember that if you want to continue to grow as a music therapist, you have to put in the time.

I hope as my groups at this agency continue on growing that my session planning will reflect this change. I know that there are other MTs out there finding it difficult to get fresh inspiration for their adult groups and individuals with IDD so I hope to post some of my original interventions and adaptations as I go along. Who knows, maybe someone will finally figure out that Part B I’ve been looking for.

One response to “The Truth About Session Planning”

  1. Hi! I stumbled across your blog as I was doing my own internet-scouring for intervention ideas, and I can relate to every single word in this post so much! I wish there was more out there to spark ideas for us music therapists. The blog I’m commenting from right now is actually one my friend and I recently started, and my main goal is just to share the interventions I’ve used to hopefully add to the resources for people out there, whether they use my ideas exactly (which are mostly taken from other blogs/Pinterest anyway) or just use them to spark their own ideas. Just wanted to reach out and say I’m enjoying reading your posts, so thank you!! (:


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