Back to School: Asking for Help

Music therapy students often encounter similar trajectories throughout their internship as they begin to learn more about themselves and who they are as a music therapist. In my last post, I wrote about one aspect of internship that has been a common challenge for students, including building repertoire: Back to School: A Music Therapy Student Series: Pediatric Music Resources. Another aspect of internship that is crucial to consider immediately from the start includes utilizing supervision.

#2: Utilize Supervision

Supervision is an interesting component of internship, especially for students who may have only one or two supervisors. It is different than a student/professor relationship and that of an employee/employer. The nature of internship requires students to be supervised and observed for the majority of the hours spent working. For my students, time throughout the working week is well spent in debriefing, receiving feedback, and in discussion about the variety of experiences they either lead, co-lead, or observe. By the time “formal supervision” rolls around each week, many experiences have been dissected pretty well.

Formal supervision – or one hour of one-on-one, dedicated time a week – is a requirement for AMTA national roster internships. It is included to not only meet the needs of the students as they learn and grow throughout their time, but also to foster self-awareness, self-assessment, and to practice healthy processing of experiences. With the guidance of your supervisor, interns should be comfortably self-processing and implementing healthy coping skills to deal with the ups and downs of being a music therapist by the time they complete their internship.

Supervision is also a very individualistic experience. Depending on your personality, that time may be best spent verbally processing through feelings in the moment, or to discuss your self-reflections that you took notes on over the week. Each of us process through our experiences differently and that is always okay. Most supervisors are well equipped to adapt as needed and to provide supervision that best meets each individuals’ preferences and needs. The challenge to supervision, however, is that the benefits gained from it are largely the responsibility of the student.

One of the biggest takeaways I learned about myself as a student is that I am terrible about asking for help. I am a very independent person and do not often think to ask someone else to assist me because in the end I know I can eventually do it myself. In many cases, I would rather struggle through something and get there independently than impose or place a burden on someone else. Ultimately, I am a caregiver – I do not like to be cared for.

There is a belief that our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. One of my greatest strengths is in caring for others and displaying genuine empathy. The opposite weakness to that is that I struggle with asking for help. As an intern myself, this was an enormous challenge. Because I was unwilling to ask for help – and to not be a burden or impose on someone else – I missed a number of opportunities to seek guidance, wisdom, or clarity on things that would have made me a better student and music therapist. Missing these opportunities and then having to talk about these missed opportunities with my supervisors (pro tip: supervisors always know!) was both mortifying, frustrating, and painfully emotional. At the time, it felt like being asked to change who I was. It was difficult and humbling. With hindsight and perspective, I now see that my unwillingness to ask for help was an enormous barrier to personal and professional growth. Yes, being independent, caring, and empathetic were wonderful strengths but I was only going to get so far in life if I wasn’t also willing to admit when I needed help.

Many of us do not want to ask for help because it reveals a lack of knowledge. If I admit that I don’t know how to do something, people will realize I am a fraud! These are the irrational things we tell ourselves. Now that I am on the other side of this experience, I cannot reiterate enough to students that the questions we do not ask matter more than the questions we end up asking. Asking questions projects an attitude of engagement, curiosity, and openness to learning. Being unwilling to admit you need help in the moments when you are struggling will only create a wall between yourself and who you can be. As a supervisor, I can always see when a student is struggling or in need of help. It does not matter how much you pretend that you have it all together or that you can figure it out independently. It is our job to see through that facade and to provide you with guidance. This is different than the expectations a professor may have had and a future employer will likely dedicate to you. The uniqueness to this short relationship between yourself and your supervisor is what can make it so special.

What is of utmost importance for students to know is that the responsibility of admitting that you need help and asking for it is ultimately up to you. I can certainly point out to a student that it seems like they are struggling but the amount of ownership and growth in those moments will be significantly smaller compared to if the student had pointed it out themselves. Whether you embrace that you are limited in knowledge in certain areas is entirely up to you. Taking advantage of the experts in the room, both your supervisor(s) and other professionals is up to you. Presenting ideas for thoughts, opinions, and responses from others is up to you. Take advantage of someone who is solely there for 6 months to provide you with encouragement, feedback, challenges, and to answer your questions.

Arriving at internship after years of studying is certainly the light at the end of the tunnel. It can be easy to focus on simply completing internship in order to get to “real life.” I cannot stress enough to students that internship is a great opportunity to experiment while having a safety net. No other times in your career will you be given the opportunity to try things while having someone else be there as backup in case you fail. Take advantage of this time. Every missed opportunity to be vulnerable and admit uncertainty is a guaranteed unanswered question as a new professional when you are (likely) on your own.

Do not let yourself be prideful or assume that you are ready to be the best professional you can be, all independently. Know that your greatest strengths also are likely your greatest weaknesses. Be excited and proud of your opportunity to be given guidance and support towards your potential as you learn, grow, and push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Trust that supervisors have chosen to be supervisors because they care about students and the future of the profession. Embrace your opportunity ahead of you and know that you will ultimately be a different version of yourself on the other side regardless, so choose to take advantage of every opportunity to learn, fully.

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