Dreaming Big

I’ve been waylaid in the last 2 weeks on writing a new post because I have been busy dreaming. I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people about what their next steps in life are going to be. I am personally at a point in my professional life where I’m no longer an extreme newbie. I’m a bit more settled into who I am as a career-person, but still fresh enough to want to keep climbing, often searching for what is next. My husband is in the same place, and we are continually discussing how we identify our next professional step. We are also often assessing the areas in our career that need nurturing and growth to move on to those next steps. A simpler way to put it is that we feel content in what we do, but not quite satisfied.

When you move to a new city where a music therapy job is not immediately available, it takes a long time to cultivate relationships and connections to create MT jobs or find appropriate private clients. I’ve been lucky to have some part-time work made available to me within 6 months of moving here. It has kept me connected to MT and allowed my skills to stay fresh. But it certainly hasn’t kept me quite busy enough. I’ve been supplementing my time with other related jobs to fill my schedule but they really haven’t been working towards any big dreams. They’ve been helping me, little by little, to continue making new connections and creating relationships with people in order to put myself out in the community and become a new member of that community.

It’s always difficult though to simply wait for those connections and community membership to produce results. I’ve spent many days in the last year feeling like I had no purpose except to feed the cat. And maybe, do the dishes. But, if you are patient enough to wait and to settle yourself in the discomfort of waiting, you might become more aware of the movement that is working to produce those results.

Last week I had the privilege of presenting an in-service on Music Therapy to the Professional and Business Women of St. Petersburg. This had been scheduled about 5 months prior to the presentation and I had almost forgotten about it, until I had flipped through my planner a few weeks ago. This was a perfect example of something that was gradually moving underneath my waiting, and revealed itself to be a great result. I presented to many important women in the St. Petersburg area, but more importantly, to women who wanted to know more about music therapy. I was told after my presentation that not all of the women attend every meeting, but instead choose to attend the meetings that have programs of interest to them. This was a great compliment to me knowing that the women who were present were women who wanted to learn about music therapy! Although there were no direct results from this presentation, I do believe that it connected me more to the community and created advocacy for the profession that otherwise would have been missing.

Thanks to the Professional and Business Women of St. Petersburg for allowing me to present at their bi-monthly meeting!

Although I absolutely love giving presentations on MT and advocating for the profession, it does not usually transfer into a full-time position. (And if it does, who can I talk to about applying?!). Even though this presentation last week was a nice treat for me, I still had to return to figuring out my next steps in my professional life. The reason why I’ve been busy dreaming over the last 2 weeks is because I really want to open a piano studio. I have loved teaching lessons in the past and it was something I really felt was missing after moving. The only problems I immediately encountered were that: I didn’t have a piano, and my house isn’t really big enough to teach lessons out of.

So then, I really started dreaming. I would get lost in what I wanted to do, and the details of executing those thoughts. I then began to ask myself, how do I know that this is a dream worth pursuing and makes the most sense for a next professional step? I considered my answer to be yes, when I simply couldn’t stop thinking about it. Every day I would think, how can this help me get closer to opening my piano studio? You know when someone makes a joke more than a few times, you realize that they aren’t really joking, but are instead revealing a truth? This was the same here. My husband and I have always joked about my music therapy sessions being called “music therapy time”. He has always asked, “How was music therapy time today”? We thought that would be an excellent MT private practice name.

Do you see where I’m going with this? We are dreaming big over here; considering how we can start a small business, such as teaching piano lessons to a reasonable amount of students, and learning how to run it in preparation for something even bigger in the future. So far, the learning curve hasn’t been easy. Each day I have to dream a bit more in order to keep up the optimism and energy for an idea that will constantly be challenged (mainly by my husband who is super pragmatic, logical, and excellent with all things numbers) but has worth. We are content, but are really just beginning.

Let’s Talk About Iso-Principle: Part 2 – The Questions

Last week I introduced and reviewed the topic of iso-principle. If you missed that post, you might want to head back to it here so that you are on the same page with me. I broke down my thoughts and opinions on the topic because I wanted to discuss something even more important: all of my related questions.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I am a person who questions everything in what I like to think is a healthy way. I used to consider my constant questions and re-evaluations as “over-analyzing”, but I truly believe that if you are aware enough of why you are posing these questions to yourself or to people close to you, then you are simply seeking ways in which to grow and evolve.

An example of this might be you simply observing someone else in the store and questioning why they may be looking so frazzled. This is your brain asking yourself, how can I help this person be more comfortable? But also, why does it concern me to see someone else uncomfortable?

Another example of this might be when you seek out a friend to discuss how another friend reacted to a comment you made. This is you considering what you said from another perspective and seeking out opinions other than your own to help you learn how you could have handled this situation in a more beneficial and harmless way.

If you don’t pose questions, how do you learn?

I like to think of myself as someone who knows a lot about iso-principle. I also like to think of myself as someone who hardly knows anything about iso-principle. I distinctly remember going to music therapy conference the first year I was a new professional and being ecstatic that I was going to spend the long weekend interacting with other music therapists. I was especially looking forward to being able to pick their brains about every question I had filed away throughout my first 6 months in my new job. During these 6 months I was the only music therapist in my company, and I was getting accustomed to being the expert in music therapy amidst doctors, nurses, massage therapists, marketing reps, etc. Iso-principle was the one technique I had continuously worked to refine and master throughout internship, which, realistically, had me grow from being completely oblivious at the start of my internship to being aware of the principle and how I used it, but no where near “mastering”. I was still lightyears away from being fully in charge of iso-principle, self-awareness, and working “in the moment” during sessions.

What had ended up happening as I was thrown out into the real world on my own was that I realized after leaving the safety of being a student, that’s when all of the questions flooded in. When you are now the expert in your field, who can you pose your questions to? This is where conference came in. I was so excited to get answers!

Except, I didn’t. In fact, I just had more questions. My number one question about iso-principle, which was very related to my work in hospice care at the time, was this:

1. When you are working with someone who is hard of hearing, how do you utilize iso-principle? Let’s say that patient Patricia is depressed, lethargic, isolated, and irritable. Oh, and she is hard of hearing, despite her hearing aids. This challenge may be a contributing factor to her current demeanor and affect, so how do I meet her where she is at? I want to provide music and a therapeutic demeanor/environment that matches her mood, but what if she can’t hear me? Do I speak so loudly that I end up yelling, which alarms her because I am yelling (and therefore not matching her mood), or do I end up speaking in a normal voice to meet her reserved state, and therefore end up frustrating her more because she can’t hear me? What is the correct balance?

I started with this first question, but then immediately continued to question similar scenarios, until I had multiple related questions; such as:

2. How do you know you are correctly using iso-principle with a client with locked-in syndrome? Locked-in syndrome essentially means that someone is cognitively present and understanding their environment and conversation, but their brain is unable to communicate their understanding. This is a current challenge of mine with my TBI client, who cannot control facial expressions or motor movement to convey feeling or responses. How do I know past my best judgement that I am meeting them where they are at?

3. How do you match iso-principle in a large group session? This can be done a little easier with particular groups of clients or patients, but this question is a bit more specific to my current clientele. I recently had a too-large group of adults with IDD, and spend some time checking in with each client (Hello, how are you doing today?). What happens if one person is feeling very low while the rest of the group is high energy and happy? How do you validate this person’s feeling and help connect them better to the group when your focus is divided by 10+ other people?

And finally, most importantly:

4. How do you self-evaluate your abilities as a therapist against all of these considerations and un-answered questions?

Sometimes I wonder if there really are answers to these questions beyond using your best therapeutic judgement. It would be wonderful if there were black and white answers, but I have a feeling there aren’t. Although I didn’t find these black and white answers at conference, what I did end up learning was much more revealing. Not only did I not find answers, but I found that no one else seemed to be asking these questions. In fact, some people I spoke with had no reaction to these questions!

A lot of these experiences are what helped me to decide to continue my music therapy studies at the master’s level. I want to seek out supervision, participate in tough conversations, and follow more guidance on how I can better obtain these answers. If you have any ideas on how to answer some of the above questions, please, let me know! Otherwise, I’ll try and keep you posted…. Nevertheless, I hope it encourages you to be more questioning, whether in music therapy, or in life.

Let’s Talk About Iso-Principle: The Introduction

First off, an explanation of iso-principle is needed. The phrase “iso-principle” is specific to music therapy and was coined by a music therapist pioneer in the 1950’s. The most straightforward definition I have found is this:

“[Iso-principle is] a technique by which music is matched with the mood of a client, then gradually altered to affect the desired mood state. This technique can also be used to affect physiological responses such as heart rate and blood pressure” (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 2008).

Iso-principle is so often discussed regarding either mood state, or physiological state – and not typically both at once. I like this particular definition above because it is a helpful reminder that this technique can be used in more than one way. When I was in undergrad, I often thought of this principle as largely mood-based because that was what I could relate to. Barbara Crowe (2004) discusses how most music can be associated with a particular mood, or how particular tonal arrangements, tempos, styles, etc. can easily reflect a feeling that is recognizable. Because of this, imagining how music can affect one’s mood is relatable to most everyone. That’s usually the easiest way I introduce music therapy to someone who has never heard of it before. My broken-down definition of music therapy is: “I use music to help people feel better”. Although there are still many follow-up questions to that statement, people can associate with that idea because people have always used music to connect with their mood state.

A key consideration to this is that not all “typical” emotion-evoking music works in the same way for everyone. People have such personal and intimate relationships with songs that you can’t make any assumptions. Just because “If You’re Happy and You Know It” is an upbeat, often silly, and laughable song doesn’t mean that everyone will connect to it that way. You have to take into account personal experiences, memories, and the way the music is being played when you are considering iso-principle. Looking at it from the other direction may be simpler: often times people can draw strength, enthusiasm, and energy from songs that might usually be perceived as “downers” or “depressing”. Think of your typical folksy, singer-songwriter style of music that is slower, more often in minor keys, and may have thought-provoking lyrics.

Therein lies the key to iso-principle: you have to meet someone where they are at. Let’s take a moment and consider iso-principle from the physiological side. Let’s say you are working with a patient who’s heartbeat is 120 beats per minute (bpm). This is too fast for a healthy resting heart rate, so you play a song at 120 bpm for the tempo. This is meeting someone where they are at physiologically. You then employ the iso-principle technique to lower their heart rate. You gradually decrease the music’s tempo until you reach the desired heart rate. The same idea is used for respiratory rate.

Earlier, I mentioned how iso-principle is sometimes looked at as either/or. You are either affecting their mood state, or you’re affect their physiological state with this technique. But I say you’re always doing both. If your heart rate is too fast, you may be uncomfortable or in pain, unable to focus on other things, and are probably not in a fantastic mood. If you are meeting someone where they are at physiologically, you are also helping meet them where they are at emotionally. The converse is also true. If you are connecting with someone emotionally, physiologically they are likely to relax and have lowered HR and RR.

Which brings me to my main point: Everything in music therapy is about iso-principle. You cannot connect to someone in an effective way without connecting to them emotionally, which also affects mentality and spirituality; or physiologically, which affects physicality. Engaging with others and mirroring their affect or emotional state is the most important way you can build rapport, garner trust, and more quickly connect to someone in music therapy. This idea can be illustrated by simply changing one word from the previously mentioned definition of iso-principle:

“[Iso-principle is] a technique by which [your demeanor] is matched with the mood of a client, then gradually altered to affect the desired mood state.

I will never forget the day where the importance of this insight was demonstrated to me as a patient myself. I had just recently received a health diagnosis that had required me to attend some education classes. I was so newly diagnosed that I was still in stages of disbelief, anger, and frustration. I arrived at this particular class to have a nurse say to me, “Everything’s alright! We are going to learn everything you need to know to succeed in life and you will be happy forever!!!” I may be paraphrasing here, but what I heard her say was, “Everything you are feeling is not valid in this moment in time because I am going to say everything in the happiest of voices and disregard your feelings”! Needless to say, she did not meet me in my emotional state, and I spent the entire class resenting her and what she had to say.

After recognizing how it felt to be addressed without iso-principle, I internally vowed that I would attempt to focus on utilizing iso-principle with all of my music therapy clients, in addition to employing this technique in my personal life. You simply have to question yourself with this: How can I be completely aware of myself and my actions and how they might affect other people?

Tune in next time for the real reason I wanted to discuss iso-principle. “Let’s Talk About Iso-Principle Part 2: The Questions”.

Practicing-My-Citations Bibliography
Crowe, B. (2004). Music and soul making: Toward a new theory of music therapy. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Davis, W.B., Gfeller, K.E., Thaut, M.H. (2008). An introduction to music therapy theory and practice. (Ed.). Silver Spring, MD: The American Music Therapy Association.

Accepting Defeat

How do you practice self-care during the days when you feel defeated?

This used to be in easier answer when I was younger and I could answer in a heartbeat: music. Duh. Music was my strongest outlet of emotional expression, social connection, and way to analyze the confusion of growing up. Now, however, music is my professional life. This becomes muddled when days are tough because I no longer have the desire to listen to preferred music or express myself in playing as I am simply tired. Tired of music and tired of thinking about every aspect of music.

Do you catch yourself utilizing your music therapist brain when you hear a new song, or someone discusses a song they like (or don’t like)? Not only do I do this, but I can no longer separate music from my music therapist’s brain. Is this beneficial to me? Or is this affecting my ability to separate my personal life from my professional life?

I currently work only part-time in music therapy, but I also work part-time in piano accompaniment for a local church, and am preparing myself for part-time master’s work in music therapy. Although none of these things employ my music therapist’s brain full-time, combined together it seems like it does.

I would actually argue that it makes it feel more than full-time. My reasoning is this: When I worked FT for a company that employed me as a music therapist, going home after a day’s work was simple – get in car, leave last patient’s house, turn on NPR/podcast (no music), and drive home to personal life. Having the stability of a full-time job made it simple to leave work at work and deal with whatever was happening the next day. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I had an overall very healthy outlook on self-care and understanding that work needed to be dealt with at work.

But what happens if your “full-time” work (aka many part-time jobs crammed together) begin to blur those work vs. personal life lines? I am realizing daily that without that stability and structure of a Monday – Friday, 8-5 job, my music therapist brain is becoming less and less able to clearly identify when work is over. I am often left feeling unfinished, worried, stressed, and overly aware of the amount of work remaining. This can be attributed to: 1. Not having an office; 2. Not having paid time to plan; and most importantly 3: Having no clear cut lines between one job to the next (or to the next, or the other next…).

In addition to these obstacles, I find that I am left more time to daydream. This seems like it would be healthy addition! However, time to allow my dreams to run wild and dissect what I want to do next with my professional life enables me to fall hard when bits of defeat block my way. This is because my mind-set is often, “this is good, but not good enough”. In our society, part-time work is typically associated with parents, or retirees, and when you are neither, it feels like your professional life is only half-completed. You could say that I shouldn’t worry about “society”, but alas, I am merely human.

Recently, I’ve been dreaming out the wazoo on what I want to do next. When things don’t work out the way I hoped, accepting defeat has been difficult. How do I manage self-care for my professional life when the self-care that has always helped is causing my personal woes? The last time I dealt with similar feelings (yes, this does appear to be cyclical), a friend of mine shared this quote with me:

“The problem is that you will handle the holy things professionally, and discover you have become calloused to them personally.” (Images of Pastoral Care: 135) President Lacy, Union Theological Seminary”

This quote doesn’t give me any answers. But I appreciate that I am, at least, not alone in these feelings.

Some Original Intervention Ideas

During the past month, I’ve really been trying to create at least one original intervention/song for my sessions with my adults with IDD. Mostly, this is due to the fact that I’ve been trying to revamp my sessions and work on appropriate goals with these particular clients (which I’ve already hashed out in this blog post).

When creating my themed sessions, I’ve really found that as I go along in planning, I already have a fairly clear idea of what I want my outcome to be, so I simply have to create the plan of action to get there. Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of simple A & B style songs, as these are typically the most straightforward for these clients. I want them to be able to sing along easily upon introduction of the song in Part A, but also challenge their skills and abilities in Part B. Here are some examples of what I’ve been creating:


We’re Playing Our Song

Goals: Impulse control, sharing, increasing social skills & awareness

Intervention: This is a simple hot-potato style activity. Within the circle, one unique instrument is chosen as the “potato” to be passed around the circle (can be anything – cabasa, kokiriko, drum, etc.).  This instrument is passed around from person to person during Part A of song. When the Part A ends/stops, Part B enables the client to have a 4-bar improvisational or exploration solo with the special potato-instrument. Part A resumes and the instrument continues around the circle. This repeats until all clients have been given a chance to improvise.

Considerations: How difficult is it to be handed an instrument and NOT play it immediately? Keep in mind that you will need to continually give instructions on the “rules” of this activity (e.g. not playing the instrument until it is your to turn to improvise).

Adaptations: Have clients choose a style for Part B when it’s their turn (pop, country, reggae, etc.) or choose a direction (e.g. fast/slow, loud/soft, etc.) and match with accompaniment.

Listen to the song here but please bear in mind these are rough recordings!


That Is Why We Like the Springtime

GoalsCreative/abstract thinking, increasing communication skills

Intervention: Clients participate in open instrument play during Part A, which I consider to be the introduction to the song, or setting up the story. The story is that spring has newly sprung (which is even more abstract to consider in Florida…) and there are many activities that we do in the spring (e.g. playing sports, gardening, picnics, swimming, etc.). After Part A, each client receives a turn to choose an activity they enjoy. During Part B, they consider what that activity might sound like and play that sound on their instrument with the accompaniment mirroring their sound.

Considerations: Creative thinking is difficult for anyone, so be prepared to offer choices and sounds. However, don’t expect that someone can’t create their own idea OR an improvisation to match! I had quite a few clients surprise me with their ability to create a “swimming sound” or “baseball sound”!

Listen here to this song


Pat’ the Hat

Goals: Creative thinking, following directions, increasing communication skills

Intervention: Choose a fun or funky hat to be “Pat”. Fill Pat up with cards that can be chosen by each client with directions of a style or way to play music. Such examples include, “play on your head”, “play with a neighbor”, “play like you’re underwater”, etc. During Part A, which I consider to be setting up the story again, clients can have open instrument playing. During Part B, each client receives a turn to choose a style of playing from Pat the Hat. The client then leads the group in playing instruments in that particular style.

Considerations: Again, with some of the more creative thinking, you may need to brainstorm with the clients how “moving underwater” might look and how that might affect how you play your instrument before you enter Part B of the song.

Special Note: Each chosen style pulled from that hat has a corresponding rhyme to it. Talk about memorization! Example: “Play on your shoulder” – “At least it’s not a boulder”.

Listen to the song here

You may notice some themes or recurring foundational ideas with each of these interventions. Not only do I want to work on these various goals mentioned above, I want to make sure that I create interventions that allows each client to be successful, which is why there is a lot of turn-taking. I also believing in conversely challenging each person as I know they are capable of more than meets the eye. If you have any suggestions or questions about these interventions, please feel free to share by replying to this post. Let me know what you think!

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.

About Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

The short answer?: Using music as the medium in evidenced-based way to make people feel better.

The long answer?: Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. [From musictherapy.org]

Music therapy can be utilized with anyone. The goals that are accomplished within music therapy are similar to other therapies – addressing the emotional, physical, cognitive, spiritual, and psychological needs of an individual or group. Goals will look different among different individuals and the music can be adapted in various ways to meet these goals.

Music therapists can be found in the following settings: private practice, hospitals, hospice care, special education/school systems, psychiatric facilities, nursing homes/assisted living facilities, correctional facilities, and more.

Music interventions may look like the following: songwriting, music assisted imagery and relaxation, movement to music, lyric analysis, music listening, music and counseling, improvisation, learning instruments, music performance, and iso-principle.

Some of the outcomes of music therapy include: decreasing anxiety, emotional expression, increasing relaxation, non-pharmacological pain management, positive coping skills, sensory stimulation, increasing communication skills, reminiscence, bereavement, and more.

For more information about music therapy or how to find a board-certified music therapist, please visit the American Music Therapy Association or Certification Board for Music Therapists

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.


Getting Started…

Music therapy can often be a lonely setting for a music therapist. No matter how many clients or patients you may work with in a day, sometimes you come home and feel like you haven’t spoken to anyone all day. Often this is because you’re always “on” while working, and never have the opportunity to interact with a colleague all day.

When you work alone, you find that you end up keeping all your thoughts throughout the day to yourself, and at the end of the day, have to express everything all at once for the sheer necessity of talking. However,  when the one person who has to hear every detail about your day has to hear it every day, it can get tiring.

Thank you to my husband for listening to every story, moment, and thought I’ve had for the last 6 months, but enough is enough. I need to create my own colleagues if I don’t have the option of having them while I work.

So here I am.

Here are my goals for future posts and the purpose of the blog as a whole

1. To document my stories, thoughts, successes, and challenges related to music therapy.

2. To share my intervention ideas and session plans to have as a record for myself, and a resource for others.

3. To contribute to the online presence about music therapy to help educate others on the benefits and importance of the practice.

4. Lastly, to keep my sanity and to fuel my expression. And to save my husband from it all.