Thursday, October 14, 2010

In which grad school opens a whole can of worms...

I'm taking a graduate music therapy class right now. Technically, I'm a non-matriculating student. (I love that word... it's fun to say!) This semester, the class is ethics. Well, it's actually:

"Legal and Ethical Issues in Music Therapy."

I know. It sounds like it should be a non-narcotic sleep aid, right?

It actually hasn't been too bad. The professor is really good at facilitating interesting discussions. Now that we are talking about supervision (that is, supervising music therapy practicum students and interns) our discussions have taken an interesting turn.

We talked this evening about different approaches to supervising college-age students who have finished their coursework, but are not yet professionals. It's a fascinating period of personal & professional growth, and there are many different approaches to shepherding an intern through this time.

The approach I tend to use the most is the verbal approach. This approach is characterized by discussions, conversations and verbal analysis of sessions, behaviors, breakthroughs, etc. with clients.

The approach that I tend to avoid is the more experiential approach in which music therapy supervisors and supervisees actually use music therapy techniques to process events and sessions that occur with clients. This approach is characterized by a lot of musical improvisation.

Some of the other students in class (many of whom are actually undergrads) reported that they might prefer the experiential approach over the verbal approach. They were, after all, musicians first.

[Cue can-opener sound effects]

This is the part where my can came open and all the worms wriggled out.

I used to love improvisation. I actually used to be very good at it. For a time, I planned to be a jazz musician. As my job. Until my mom pointed out that at some point I would undoubtedly need things like health insurance and money for rent. (After this she pretty well demanded that I declare a major which would lead to a steady paycheck. Consequently, the first question she asked when I came home a week later & told her I wanted to be a music therapist was, "Is that a real job?")

But I digress.

I loved improv. It came as naturally as eating cupcakes.

And then...

Then... well,

Then I got robbed at gunpoint while working the counter at a small video store, and although I walked away physically unharmed... that part of me, that musician who rocked at improv & song writing... well, it just withered up and died. I lost all ability to improvise even the shortest solo. I could still play music that somebody else had written, but I just couldn't express myself that way at all anymore.

It was replaced by post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and depression.

The PTSD is pretty well gone, although I still struggle a bit with the other two.

But I realized, as I was listening to those young musicians talking, that I never bothered to try & fix that broken musician in me. As a wife, mom & music therapist, it's easy (really easy) to turn all of my attention outward, to the people who will take all I offer & then ask for more.

I think this has worked for me because the idea of exploring that part of me is frightening. What if I can't get that back? The possibility of failure here is potentially devastating.

Believe it or not, I've been able to get by without improvising very much at all. I write many of my own songs for therapy, but that music is for teaching, not for expressing.

So this class was supposed to be a completely cerebral experience. I was taking it just to further my education and cognitively challenge myself, and it has opened up a can of worms for me. It's not exactly a huge emotional issue. But I do keep thinking about it.

What do you think? Have you ever felt like you lost a piece of yourself & wondered if you could get it back? Did you try? How did you do it?


  1. Yes! I had a traumatic experience where I suffered from PTSD and anxiety and depression. And I felt like a piece of the old me was gone for a while. About a year ago I started singing on the praise team at my church. Something that allows me to express myself and to worship...and it has restored (slowly) that old part of me. It's still a work in progress but through Jesus I'm getting there!

  2. I have been pondering on this all day since I read your post this morning. I can't seem to formulate a great "aha, there part the clouds, rainbows forming, birds singing, hosts of angels singing a chorus of Alleluia" response.

    I wanted to give you huge props for "coming out" about your experience. You haven't shared that on your blog before, and I am so proud of you for that. That took a hella lot of courage, girl!

    And, while it isn't along the same lines as your event which prompted the losing of the improvisational expressive part of yourself, you know what I've gone through and I've lost a lot of myself in that. We've talked about it. (And I'm not comparing pain/loss/withering of parts here. Our brand of pain isn't the same, but we can relate to pain all the same, as you once wrote to me). It took a lot of praying, soul searching, and hard work for me to come back out of the shadows and put myself back out there and rebuild the parts that were shattered. Sometimes I feel like they're just held together with duct tape, but that's ok. At least there's some semblance of "whole" there.

    Remember what I told you a while back about how God wants us to be dependent on him. He WANTS us to ask for help. He LOVES that. He's ready and waiting for you to ask for his help in overcoming this creative and expressive block. You don't have to do it alone, or figure out everything alone. That's not your job. It's His.

    While I might not have the best advice, you know that I love you dearly, and support ANYTHING you do. I offer my prayers, my shoulders, my ears, my arms for a good tight hug, (along with some chocolate and Kleenex!). I'm here to listen and support you along the way as you rediscover (if you choose to do so) the "lost musician" in you.

    Isn't it amazing how something triggers all these thoughts? I love it though, because I truly believe it's God...remember that billboard you asked for the other day??? :)

  3. I think you have to remember that the experience changed you, and therefore your improvisations will also be changed. YOu have grown in many ways, and I would expect your music to also grow. Don't expect to be the "same," but to have the music reflect who you are right now.

    And in regard to processing with students using MT techniques...I really think that blurs the professional - client lines with a student. If you are doing MT techniques with them, are they technically your client now? It just gets too icky. PLUS, in the "real" world, you can't musically process a situation with your boss...I could go on, but I will stop there. :)


I would love to hear from you (as long as you're not a robot.)!