From our Music Therapy Intern…

How do I know if this is making a difference?
What if I’m just wasting their time?
Are they bored?
Do they know that I care for them?
Is this client making any improvements through music therapy at all?
Why isn’t this clicking?
Why don’t I have any ideas?
How dare I actually believe I can be a professional music therapist someday?

These are thoughts and doubts that run through my mind on days that appear to be unsuccessful on the surface level. Days when the client sits quietly and rejects any musical promptings I come up with. Days when the client runs circles around me and tears through the baskets of instruments in the room. Days when the client repeatedly checks the clock to see how much longer they have to stay. Days when the client insists on certain activities that are irrelevant to the goals that I had in mind to work on that day.

The problem with these days, and these thoughts, is my perspective. I have a tendency to be so self-absorbed that I look at interactions like these and immediately assess them as “unsuccessful”. Just because things didn’t go my way, or because things didn’t flow naturally from my heart, or because things didn’t meet my goals for the client. I find myself so trapped in these unhealthy thoughts sometimes, and I have to take a step back and reevaluate.

Am I prioritizing the imagined “success” of my internship, or am I prioritizing the growth and individuality of the client? Am I trying to tick all the boxes and acquire all the data, or am I trying to let the music child inside each client shine through with resounding brilliance? Am I so consumed by a false pretense that all of the clients have to meet my predetermined goals by the end of my internship, or am I honoring and admiring the small steps of improvement that are made each day through their own unique pace in their life journey?

I have been challenged this week, as I sense the encroaching deadline for this internship, to focus not on my successes with clients, but on their journey through music therapy. I have had to look at goals and objectives (which I am required to keep track of over the course of the internship) and see how I can approach them without feeling so bound to one specific route of treatment. I have had to get to know my clients and their hearts, and then mold the goals that I set–after the first time I met them—to fit a more realistic means of achieving or striving for those goals.

For some of my clients, most of their life is determined for them. School systems create IEP’s, physical limitations hold them from being mobile and deciding where they want to go, speech limitations hold them from being able to communicate their needs clearly, developmental limitations hold them from being able to participate in common activities with their peers. For some of my clients, music is their only opportunity to be free and make their own choices.

There are no wrong notes in music therapy. Every act is a means of expression.

Whether that is sitting quietly, running in circles, checking the clock, or requesting a different activity. Everything the client does during the session reveals something about them; their desires, passions, emotional experiences, musical preferences, strengths. It is my job to respect each and every one of them, honoring their musical spirit, however that is expressed. I am to encourage them and to build them up in a way that highlights their unique qualities and makes them feel valued for who they are.

My priority is to show love to each client above all, and this does not mean to throw all goals and objectives out the window, but rather, consider how these can be met in a way in which the client feels seen, heard, and understood.

Attached is a video of a board-certified music therapist working with an adult with autism. In this video, he matches the client’s rocking rhythm and honors it with the beat of the music. Ryan Judd, MT-BC demonstrates the power of building clients up and helping them see how unique and valuable they are through music and interaction.

Hannah Avery is our very first Music Therapy Intern here at Harmony Garden Music Therapy Services.
Stay tuned for her blog posts as she goes (and grows) through her music therapy internship.