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.