Monday, January 28, 2013

Valentine Session Idea

There are happy Valentine Songs .

There are sad Valentine Songs.

Why not make this concept into a game? Work on things like emotional recognition, attention to detail, active listening, emotional processing and even some good old impulse control.

What I did:
I cut up a huge batch of paper hearts.  Some hearts had happy smiles on them, some had a broken crack.  Then I broke out the Valentine Folder and sang away.  Each person had a turn where it was up to them alone to decide if it was a "Happy Valentine Song" or a "Broken Heart Song".  When they decided, they turned in a paper heart confirming their decision.  Sounds easy right?
But no. not always.  
When I tried this out, here were my snags.
1. I played the whole song. Try a shorter version or a verse and chorus.  Keeping a game interesting requires shorter turns. 
2. Not every group member was able to discern between the two.  Some people handed in random hearts. For these clients, I restated key lyrics back to them and asked them to try again.
3. Some songs sound happy and they are really sad and vice-versa.  I was surprised to see how many clients were making their decisions based on the actual "feel" of the song. 
4. Watch out for the overzealous group members who want to shout out answers.

At the end we counted up the hearts and tallied the sad vs. happy.  We also had a short discussion about love and each person stated what they loved about Valentine's Day.
Just an idea. Use it if you please.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Music Therapy Advocacy Month- "Part Of Your World"

"When I reflect on the work I've done with people, I think of moments in time that demonstrate how simply being in a music therapy setting allows for such great change to occur in someone's life, how a musical exchange can shape thoughts and become a cathartic experience." ~ Melanie Walborn
Hi MTs and wonderful readers. Allow me to introduce my friend and colleague Melanie Walborn of 
WB Music Therapy.  She is a truly great music therapist and I had the privilege of interviewing her for Advocacy Month.  
In the spirit of story telling and for the sake of getting together at our favorite meeting spot, we spent some one to one time talking about music therapy where Melanie was gracious enough to share some of her meaningful stories.  Listening to them was really touching and further proved how the power of a good story speaks volumes. 
When I asked Melanie why she loved music therapy, she said how the most powerful and meaningful element for her happens to be the way in which our profession offers an outlet for clients to express themselves and let the emotion come out of it's shell and be communicated in a way that other modalities do not.  She had two great examples of this in her practice.
#1 Client:
One of Melanie's clients is a child who has a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.  The child has the usual aversions to touch, difficulty with choppy speech, social delays and communication deficits and was largely dependent on his mother.  As time went on he was gradually assisted towards independence from his mother and this is where he started engaging more with Melanie.  His favorite song was "Part of Your World" from the movie Ariel the Little Mermaid.  During one session, her client not only started singing the song with fluidity of speech, but he reached over to Melanie and gently touched her shoulder, as if communicating his connection to the song with his view of the world.  When Melanie told the mother about the session, she was in awe over his expression and that he actually touched her. It was one of the cathartic experiences that Melanie treasures. When you think about the song "Part of Your World", you can see the connections.  Ariel the Mermaid wishes so desperately to be part of something that is out of her reach and the parallel is the client, in the world of autism trying to survive his world. It's a powerful and thought provoking point of view and I was so glad and pleased to hear it. Give Ariel a listen for old times sake.
Client #2:
With another client, Melanie shared the story that has always stuck with her.  A boy in the school setting was referred because of his emotional state after having witnessed his mother's murder. (!)  He was not successful in being able to process his pain, emotions or fear until he started music therapy sessions.  With a natural affinity for rhythmic instruments and drumming, the client felt comfortable and began to communicate with Melanie through song.  He sang about his experience, sang about how he hurt, about seeing the blood of his mother, the feeling of being trapped and the guilt he carried for not being able to help her.  Imagine the images and the confusion of a child so young being exposed to something so traumatic and having no way to express themselves.  Melanie's sessions provided him with the powerful outlet he needed.  She also hoped that her sessions would teach him that music was a coping tool that he could use outside of their sessions.  Sadly, the funding for Melanie's sessions with him were cut and there was never any closure to their treatment.  This unresolved treatment is all too common with the increasing funding cuts we face as music therapists.  We can only hope that the time we do share with our clients gives them the outlet they need at the time and that they can take even just a little of what they experience with them thereafter.

Thank you Melanie. You are a great music therapist and I'm lucky to have you as a friend and colleague.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Learning From My Clients~ ADVOCACY STORY #1 of 3

If you saw my last post, you would have seen that January is Social Media Advocacy Month and I'm over the moon to be part of it.  I am going to try and post 2 more blogs in the spirit of music therapy story telling and get some other points of view but first, I'll tell you my story....
I decided that I'd like to tell a story that includes every single client I treat. That sounds fair right?
Fair and true.  And the theme that binds all my clients together is the concept of learning. More specifically, how we learn and grow together.   I have learned something valuable from every single client that I treat and currently, that's a head count of 43!!!!!!

So in the spirit of being an easy read plus laying it out flat, let's do a top 10 list of most important things I've learned from my amazing clients.
1.  How to SLOW down and take things one step at a time.  This is in sessions and in everyday life.  At the beginning of my MT carreer, I had a client who loved to sing but who barely sang along with me in sessions.  I was totally bummed about it since I knew she loved singing. When I slowed down my pace and matched my client's inner tempo, she started BELTING out the words. AH-HA! ding-ding to the CHA-CHING moment!
2.  Managing Behavior. How to recognize behavioral triggers, "behavioral build-up", avoid outbursts and diffuse behavioral situations.  This took many years and I'm still learning because each client has their own personality and there are ways to handle each person as an individual. I've been a punched, bitten, scratched, squeezed, spit on,  lunged at, vomited on, and everything in between. After a while, you start anticipating behaviors and recognizing triggers.  This is one of the most useful areas of treatment because well, clients act up sometimes.
3. How to dissect a problem or area of need.  Recognizing needs and turning them into goals is part of a legit MT practice. However, some clients have taught me that there are general surface goals that open cans of worms and each worm is another piece of the goal puzzle.  My clients have taught me to go in there carefully (just like the kid game operation) with my tweezers and get to the heart of the matter. 
4.  The Strengths of a person with disabilities.  Holy cow are my clients strong! Sincerely there are some clients with grips of steel but I'm talking about the ability to go beyond their physical or mental limitations and have happiness, hope and triumph in their lives.  During a recent session one of my clients who is an older gentleman of unstable health and is in a wheelchair, sang to me that he is so happy to be alive and grateful for his good life. I almost cried. 
5.  The humbling experience of working with people with disabilities.  Working with my clients has given me the perspective of being extra thankful for the goodness in my own life. When I measure my own frustrations in comparison, I become immediately humbled and immediately thankful for the work that I get to do every day with such fantastic people. It's called MT pride, people.
6.  Realistically Quantifying Success.  When you work with various populations of people with disabilities, many times the progress is slow.  Sometimes it's so slow that we question the success of our work. This is another valuable lesson for me as I am often a "quick results" thinker.  Luckily I have my data and progress notes that tell me exactly how things are changing which usually makes me feel better. But overall, success can be subtle forcing me to pay even closer attention. Recognize your clients achievements no matter how small and celebrate them together!
7.  Looking beyond stereotypes and prejudices.  There are many things that an MT must get beyond in order to authentically serve a client.  In my private practice the number one thing I've learned is to NEVER underestimate what your client is picking up or understanding in your sessions.  Once while in a nursing home, a staff person was observing a session.  She had worked with the individual for years not knowing that she was cognizant enough to respond to verbal directions.  I asked her to play her drum with her mallet and she quickly raised her instruments and played.  The staff was floored, saying they had no idea that she understood what people were saying to her much less that she was able to follow directions...and her given  reason was that the client was nonverbal. 
8.  Learning from mistakes.  Make them and then don't make them again if you can help it. phew! Once I had a Halloween themed session. I played "Thriller" by Michael Jackson which sent my client into a crying and yelling outburst, which then triggered her housemate, which brought 4 staff running into the room trying to help....and this was all because I had no idea that my client was scared of Michael Jackson songs. Lesson Learned. Thank you!
9.  Recognizing what is working and what is not.  My clients are very good at letting me know what they like and what they don't.  The key is listening to them, observing them, changing things up and not doing the same thing over and over again. 
10. Being a good listener.  I like to think I am a good listener but I think it would be good to remind myself that actually, I need to listen even MORE.  For example, in a session with a client, I was doing all of the singing because she is non-verbal. Then one day I thought I heard a little humming sound.  The more I listened, the more I realized that she had been humming along with me to almost every song. Lesson learned again...

In the end, even though I am the therapist and I am guiding my individuals through our experiences and through their areas of need through music, I happen to be raking in the benefits too.  The way I see it, even though I've got a couple degrees under my belt and 10 years of experience(insert horn tooting), the clients are my real life teachers, guiding ME towards better professionalism as if returning the favor...a little switcharoo if you will.
Thank you so much for reading and let the advocacy continue!

**Just as a little extra on the topic of "switcharoos", check out this website of a cool photographer's project on Switch-ups.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Music Therapy Advocacy Month

Hello Readers! I recently received the invitation to participate in the Social Media Advocacy Month from a very esteemed MT.  She and a few others are encouraging all of us who have blogs and other social media sites to write about and promote Music Therapy and if you're a music therapist, this is like a no brainer. Our "assignment" is to advocate this year through story telling. I'm currently trying to think of ways to put a great post together where I get to tell some Music Therapy stories through the eyes of three different people....More soon! I'm super excited. Fingers crossed and check back soon!

for the official scoop see below:

 Advocacy --> Recognition --> Access
Since 2005, the American Music Therapy Association  and the
  Certification Boardfor Music Therapists  have
collaborated on a State Recognition Operational Plan. The primary purpose
of this plan is to get music therapy and our MT-BC credential recognized by
individual states so that citizens can more easily access our services. The AMTA
Government Relations staff and CBMT Regulatory Affairs staff provide guidance
and technical support to state task forces throughout the country as they work
towards state recognition. To date, their work has resulted in over 35 active state
task forces, 2 licensure bills passed in 2011, 1 licensure bill passed in 2012, and
an estimated 7 bills being filed in 2013 that seek to create either title protection
or a licensure for music therapy. This month, our focus is on YOU and on getting
you excited about advocacy.