music therapy

Letting my love be heard

I lost my first music therapy client about a month ago.

She was a hospice patient, and she was the sweetest person I had ever met (which says a lot, because I’ve had the fortune of knowing so many wonderful people).

When I first got the news, even though I knew she had been in hospice for many reasons, I was still taken aback. We’d thought she had more time. I’d been planning my next session with her. I was going to see her in just a few days.

Plus, she had requested a song at our last session that I didn’t know, and I’d promised to learn it for her. That night after receiving the call, I cried. I felt like I’d broken a promise, and I wanted so badly to follow through on it.

In the weeks since then, I’ve processed this with my colleagues, therapist, and supervisor, and I realize repeatedly how lucky I am for such a strong support system. They reminded me that I had given her positive experiences before she passed, and that telling her I’d learn the song for her was a gesture in itself, and that she’d been peaceful. Hopeful.

Two sessions before that, she had told me what songs she wanted at her memorial. She said her husband had never been a musical person but once heard a specific song, came home to her, and said, “This is my song for you.” That was the one she wanted at her memorial, even though she said she wouldn’t need it. She’d be with Jesus, she said, but she knew her loved ones would feel better holding one for her.

My supervisor performed those songs at her funeral, and she passed away surrounded by people she loved.

At what I didn’t know would be our last session together, I sang two hymns for her. Near the end, she wanted me to sing one more song—she didn’t care what it was, but she wanted it to be something I loved.

So I sang “Come In With the Rain,” which I thought I’d never sing to a patient, and she loved it. She said the lyrics were lovely, and I told her I looked forward to our next session. I meant it.

Today it hit me that that was the last song she’d ever heard. It hurts that she is no longer here, but I’m thankful I got to know her in her last few months, that I had such meaningful interactions with her, that our sessions brightened her days when we were there. And reflecting now, I realize there is no greater moment of genuine connection—singing a song I loved deeply to a lovely woman who understood.

Reflections from the SWAMTA 2016 Conference

This week, I attended the Southwestern Region of the American Music Therapy Association (SWAMTA) conference in Austin, TX for the first time! Some thoughts:

There is more to music therapy than just "music" and "therapy."
It's also about understanding our clients and learning both about them and with them. Many of our clients experience the world in a different way than we do, and we have to understand how they do and meet them there. There is no "one size fits all" sort of treatment or approach even if they have the same diagnosis, because everyone is different. As much as I think I can improve my musical and therapeutical skills, I must also learn how to understand, to love, and to really get to know each client through sessions and not through textbooks or case studies.

Everyone has something to teach and to offer. 
About 36 sessions were presented at conference; many were led by practicing music therapists and professors in the music therapy field, but a lot of them were also presented by students! Some students from our school also participated, describing their experiences and what they've learned or different possible interventions. Most of the attendees at this conference have been out of school for many years, but they came to student-led sessions, asked questions and paid close attention anyway. Since everyone's exposure and background is different, everyone has something to learn from each person - and vice versa.

I have a long, long way to go and I'll never reach the end.
At first, I was just excited, and then I was overwhelmed, and now I'm grateful and looking forward to the road ahead. Every time I learn more about music therapy, whether it's through books, classes or this conference, I realize how much more there is to learn and how many challenges I'll have to go through. I hear from nervous students in practicum but at this conference, I also heard from a professional with many years of experience who talked about her challenges with maintaining boundaries and continuing a healthy therapeutic relationship with her client. It will never stop being a learning journey and I will always have something more to improve, and that's okay. In fact, that's part of why I love music, therapy, and music therapy so much.

Even though there are things I can't talk about, I never have to do this alone.
Client confidentiality is one of the biggest things emphasized in music therapy and I will often be restricted from talking about my experiences with people or on the Internet, but it doesn't mean I'm isolated. I have colleagues and supervisors. I can talk to other music therapists. I can talk about my own feelings without ever needing to go into details. And I have family and friends who will be there and continue supporting me - no explanations needed.