Burnout: Don’t Think It Won’t Happen To You

Music therapy is exciting, invigorating, …

Music therapy is also, at times, exhausting.

Constantly advocating, pushing for contracts, searching for jobs that in any way relate to your degree and experience are just a few of the challenges that music therapists face. Whoever said this job was easy: I seriously urge you to step into our shoes.

Not so long ago, I scoffed at the idea of self-care being important in music therapy. At conferences I never chose to go to a session on self-care, thinking pah! I know how to take care of myself, thank you! Oh, how pride cometh before the fall.

Within the past month-and-a-half, a number of stressors have caused me to feel a heavy burden that I haven’t felt in a very long time. One minute you think you have everything under control and things are going great, then the next minute life throws you too many curve balls to handle. I feel like the entire month of May, I was a huge walking bundle of stress and nerves. The pressure of a research project, a full case-load, the job hunt, grad school applications, and studying for the GRE and music therapy certification simultaneously seemed to all weigh in on me at once. Add a few worries from my personal life to the plate and you’ve got a recipe for an extremely spazzed-out intern!

Month 5 of internship is the month that you realize you’re about to leave to graduate. I can’t remember the specific day or moment it sank in that the “real world” was just a few months away, but when it hit me, I seemed to spiral into a decent of stress and anxiety. The funny thing about stress is that it makes you act crazy and you will have no idea why you are doing crazy things, thus reinforcing the idea that you are, in fact, going crazy. When you ignore the warning signs of stress, it WILL appear in your life in sneaky little ways. My eating patterns suffered; one day all I wanted to eat/drink was protein shakes, then the next day I wanted to inhale an entire cake. I also would find myself spacing out and spending 3 hours in Kroger, returning with nothing but a bag of cat food and herbal tea. When you find yourself so stressed that any moment of peace and normality comes as a surprise, it’s time to make self-care a priority.

“Burnout” is very much a real thing that many music therapists, interns, and students experience sometimes. I have learned that not only is it normal to feel this way, but it is perfectly alright to take a rest and do something about it. If you don’t treat it, either your body will tell you to take a rest by becoming sick, your professional work will suffer, or a combination of both. In light of the recent discovery that I am shockingly not SuperGirl, here are my tips and ways to recouperate from the dreaded burnout:

1. Exercise, and do something you absolutely love.

I absolutely believe that we were meant to be active, no exceptions. I could go on and on about the benefits of exercise. It’s tough to make exercise a priority, especially with important deadlines and other job-related duties. But for me, physical activity gives me an outlet to unwind and makes me feel so much stronger. A good jog also gives me time to shut out the world for an hour or two and listen to the music that I want to listen to (SUPER important for any music-driven person).

2. Give yourself a treat.

Everybody has their vices/ guilty pleasures. My indulgences: a well-crafted cupcake, a few hours of Big Bang Theory, and retail therapy (aka window shopping). Just remember not to go overboard.

No money? Treat yourself to the gift of time. Spend the day with no forms of communication such as your cellphone or social media. Clear your mind. Just breathing is a gift in itself.

3. Get just the right amount of sleep.

I suggest no less than 7 hours and no more than 9. The older you get, the more necessary and luxurious a good night’s sleep becomes. In addition to quantity, consider the quality of your snoozing as well. Pop a melatonin supplement, listen to whatever calms you the most (Chuck Wild, a fan, silence, ect.), and sink into some soft, comfy sheets 30 minutes or more before you want to begin to fall asleep. Reward yourself for a hard day’s work and recharge your batteries for tomorrow’s work.

4. Take a short trip anywhere.

One day I crossed the state line to Tennessee just to chill in a different Starbucks. The adventure and change of scenery was a breath of fresh air. So find a local park you’ve never visited, go see a movie solo, or bum the couches of some good friends.

5. Make time for friends and family.

This is especially important if you haven’t seen them in a while. Your friends and family are the ears you need to vent to and the shoulders you need to cry on. Sometimes it’s possible to be so busy that you forget you miss them until you see their faces or hear their voices. I got the luxury of going home two weekends in a row. I got to meet my newborn nephew in person, have a family cook out, attend my niece’s 1st birthday party, lay out by the pool, go to my favorite Mexican restaurant, and hang out with some of my friends that I haven’t seen in a long time. I came back feeling refreshed and ready to take on my internship.

6. Listen to or practice only your absolute favorite music for a day.

Give yourself permission to be completely selfish in what you listen/jam out to. Revisit the music that was so powerful that it inspired you to pursue music therapy in the first place. The mustard seed that starts a career in music therapy is the music that inspires, motivates, and changes us. What is yours?

7. Don’t forget to eat well!

Bad diets will cause more stress in the long run than if you let yourself go and get the oh-so-convenient cheeseburger and fries. That my-jeans-are-too-tight-but-I-have-no-time/money-to-buy-more feeling is THE worst. You’ll thank yourself later if you eat your fruits and veggies today.

8. Do not compromise your spirituality.

If you do not consider yourself a spiritual person, this of course does not apply. However, I urge you to prioritize the god of your understanding. For me, it is Jesus Christ. Jesus’ two biggest commandments are to first love our God above all things, then love others as you love yourself. When I find myself putting myself or other priorities above that, I find myself getting out of sorts and really struggling. We are also taught that we don’t have to carry our burdens, because our future is already secure. When I allow that truth to sink-in, I have so much peace, which in turn allows me to better follow His commandment of loving others. There is so much truth in the phrase “Let go and let God.”

9. Laugh and make others laugh. It is the best medicine, after all!

On that note, I leave you with my favorite scene from Big Bang Theory. Bazinga!



Below I have provided links to some awesome blog posts concerning the topic of burnout in music therapy:






6 Challenges I Have Faced In Music Therapy Internship

Can I just say that this has been a crazy and hectic past few months? Since my last post, many exciting things have happened in all aspects of my life. I have travelled to Chattanooga, TN for regional music therapy conference, taken a visit home for Easter, and began leading all music therapy sessions and classes, which includes 8 individual residents for treatment. Add a research project, progress notes and documentation, job hunting, grad school applications, and CBMT test-prep, and you have the recipe for one busy intern! Needless to say, posting on The Music Therapy Diva has been put on the back-burner. However, after a brief hiatus I am back and ready to blog! As I am in the last stages of my clinical internship, I thought I might share with you some of the challenges I have been facing during this critical time of professional development.

1. Time management

Ok, let’s admit it: we are all big fat procrastinators. And if you aren’t now, you at some point in your life have waited until the VERY last minute on some sort of deadline. In almost every aspect of our lives, we must learn to utilize the precious amount of time we are given to the most productive degree possible. The field of music therapy is no exception.  Plan sessions a week or two in advance. Write down any spur-of-the-moment intervention ideas for later use. GET OFF FACEBOOK. Never take office/planning time for granted. And if you can, try your best not to take work home. Relaxation time is very important in self-care (which, by the way, is not selfish at all).

2. Becoming tech-savvy

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but sometimes I can’t figure out how to turn on a computer to save my life.  I am THAT person who would much rather handwrite things than type them in a Word document; I have an Audrey Hepburn notebook that can attest to this.. Because of my brain’s apparent inability to grasp technological concepts, I have acquired a terrible habit of writing my progress notes down and forgetting to electronically document them later. I know, I promise I’m working on it.

In this day and age, however, technology is not optional and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Many everyday tasks would be impossible without electronics. Exhibit A: this very blog! And though I make regular weekend trips to Starbucks in order to get a Wi-Fi connection on my computer that took me 5 months to learn to work (anybody else miss Windows 98?), I do what I must to get it done.  Trust me when I say this: you cannot make it as a music therapist without knowing basic computer skills. Computers aid in everything from documentation to learning YouTube guitar-licks. I also cannot stress to you how important social media networking is to the music therapy world, but that is another topic for another blog-post.

I also have a confession to make: I was an iPad non-believer. I know, I know, I’m a music therapy grandma, right?  When I was I student, I vowed never to use an iPad in a session because it honestly scared me. However, seeing the iPad being used as a successful tool has changed my mind. The iPad can be used in so many different ways, and not one of them is a “replacement” for live music as I previously thought. Creative iPad use enhances therapy and can be used as further contingency. One of my residents in particular will only stay the full length of her session if she gets some iPad time at the end (and believe me, that is HUGE for her!). With that being said, I do believe that electronic devices, as with anything else, should be used in moderation. It’s called MUSIC therapy for a reason, and nothing beats the vibration of real instruments sounding beautiful chords.

3. Not having enough hands

Ok, this not something I can change about myself, but it would be nice to sprout an extra pair sometimes! I can’t count the number of times that I have been loaded down with a djembe, CD player, notebook, pen (which usually ends up in my hair), egg shakers, and guitar/guitar accessories. There may not currently be a cure for our limited limbs, but there are ways to combat the symptoms. Large totes, backpack guitar cases, and rolling carts all help carry the loads of “stuff” that comes with being a MT. If you are fortunate enough to own an iPad, it can eliminate much of the baggage when travelling. It can be used in lieu of notebooks, chord sheets, certain instruments, props, CD players and recording devices. For more on the iPad, refer to Challenge #2.

4. Holding back laughter

The residents at The Baddour Center are hilarious. They each have a personal sense of humor and I can play and joke with each of them in different ways.  But what happens when they say something I find funny, but they are being dead-serious? Or if their behavior is socially inappropriate and/or disruptive? These particular situations happened my very first week of leading group activities completely by myself. In one particular class, after singing “how are you today?” during the Hello Song, this resident decided he was doing so well that he needed to get up in front of the class and lift his shirt a la “Girls Gone Wild”. As I struggled to maintain composure and some type of authority, I promptly told him to stop and sit down. However, my giggles proceeded to come out like word-vomit during the next round of the Hello Song, rendering my vocal chords ineffective to sing. This, in turn, set the tone for the rest of the group session, which wasn’t as behaviorally controlled as I would have liked for it to be.

Bottom line: if your client/resident is being inappropriate, serious, or harmful, you should do all within your power not to LOL. Laughing is normally a positive reinforcement for any behavior, and if your clients have a certain attention-seeking behavior that you are working to get rid of, laughter only encourages the repetition of said behavior.  However, if the resident is joking or trying to be funny in an appropriate way, it is perfectly OK to laugh along with them! Not only is laughter the best medicine, but it builds rapport with your clients.  This may all sound like common sense, but trust me, sometimes it takes great self-control.

5. Holding back tears

This week one of my residents talked about how she was not looking forward to Mother’s Day, as her mother had passed away 7 years ago. When I said “I know, I know”, she replied “no, you don’t”. Talk about heart-breaking! How was I to respond to that? When a situation like this happens, you have to be strong in order to help your client/resident deal with his or her emotional pain in a manner conducive to therapy. Sometimes you just have to take the emotional punch in the gut with no sign of a grimace. Remind yourself that you can cry all you want at home.

6. Fighting germs

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Katelyn who loved to taste her friends/family’s food, take a swallow after other people when she was thirsty, and never use Germ-X. She would also offer the same eating/drinking courtesy to those around her, because she believed in the Audrey Hepburn quote: “For a slim figure, share your food with others.” Then one day, she became an intern at The Baddour Center, a lovely and magical place for lovely and magical people. These beautiful people loved to give hugs with reckless abandon, greet everyone with a firm handshake, and bestow their kisses upon hands and cheeks. But there was a wicked villian called “Germs”, and this wicked villian came in the form of the flu, stomach virus, and pink eye. And while the people of The Baddour Center were absolutely precious and pure of heart, their hands were not so pure of the nasty Germs that terrorized the villiage. The Germs spread so quickly among the villiagers that the entire Baddour Center was quarantined for two weeks, meaning all art, music, and recreational activities were cancelled. Katelyn observed within a few short weeks of coming to The Baddour Center that she needed to take strong action in the war against Germs in order to defeat the enemy once in for all.

Long story short: I now love to Lysol the entire perimeter, AirBorne and vitamins count as a food group, and hand sanitizer is my best friend.

I am very thankful for every single one of these challenges, because they have caused me to grow in ways I never thought possible. This has been such a precious time in both my personal and professional development. If you are approaching this moment yourself, I urge you to make the most of every minute and welcome every challenge that comes your way. I would also love to hear from you and/or answer any questions, so please feel free to leave a comment!


This week wraps up my 6th week of internship, and it has been quite a busy one. We’ve had both Fat Tuesday and Valentine’s Day-themed sessions, a Valentine’s dance tonight, and this is the last week I have of observations because I begin co-leading next week! Though that is a lot to think about on its own, one thing seems to be on my mind this week over and over again: home.

Most people my age experience moving away from their families when they go to college, but as WCU was only 30 minutes away from my home, I never fully experienced that because home was a short drive away. This is probably the longest I have ever been without going to visit Runnelstown, much less Hattiesburg. I’ve never been the type of person to get extremely homesick, and I have a more independent personality so am just fine being alone. But this week I couldn’t help but to be thinking of my family and friends down South.

View of the tornado from Hardy Street

View of the tornado from Hardy Street

If you have seen the news this week, you’ve probably heard about the tornado that rampaged through South MS this past Sunday. My family was thankfully left unscathed, but several people I know have lost their homes, churches, and parts of their school. Although my William Carey was left unharmed, Southern Miss was not so fortunate. It’s been a rough week for my hometown, and I hate that I could not be there to help everyone pick up after the devastating mess. It is so bad that President Obama declared it a major disaster for Forrest and Lamar counties. It is a miracle that there were no fatalities (praise God!). I am also thankful that South Mississippi is one of the most giving and generous areas of the country, so I know that they will clean up and rebuild in no time!

A heartbreaking image of the devastation to USM's campus

A heartbreaking image of the devastation to USM’s campus

Being homesick is something that everyone experiences sometimes. Although the Baddour Center is home to all the residents, they will still tell me about going “home, home”. Many of them live in different states all over the US and only get to visit once or twice a year. If you are an intern or music therapist, you may be dealing with a client or patient who struggles with being homesick from time to time. You have also probably experienced being homesick yourself at some point in your life. So here are my Top 10 songs to use in sessions (or as personal therapy) that have “home” as the common theme:

1.”Home” by Michael Buble
2. “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” by Bon Jovi
3. “I’m Going Home” by Daughtry
4. “Country Roads” by John Denver
5. “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynard Skynard
6. “The Long and Winding Road” by The Beatles
7. “Green Green Grass of Home”
8. “Homesick” by Mercy Me
9. The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert
10. “Home” by Phillip Phillips

Several of the songs on this list have certainly lifted my spirits when I have thought about missing home. They can be used in a variety of different activities such as lyric analysis, songwriting, and improv. Have you ever done an activity or session that addressed homesickness? Have you ever dealt with homesickness yourself as an intern or at a new job? I would love to hear your ideas/stories!

Hattiesburg, Oak Grove and Petal are still recovering from the disastrous tornado that hit on Feb. 10. If you are interested in helping, you can make an online donation at http://salvationarmyalm.org/hattiesburg-tornado-21013/.

The Importance of Goals

Many people don’t realize that music therapy is a goal-driven practice. Goals are the purpose, drive, and method behind the madness. Having goals is what sets us apart from the misconception of what some think we do: just “singing to people to make them feel better”. The type of goals we have for our clients also sets us apart from music educators. A music teacher’s objectives may be something like “name the years and composers of the Baroque period”, whereas a music therapist’s goals may be “increase response to verbal cues” or “improve motor functioning skills”. When the goals set by the music therapist are achieved, the MT will then document the progress of the patient/client, thus showing the effectiveness of music therapy interventions.

Goals are not only important in music therapy; they are important to have in life. Think about where you are right now: you are either here because a) you set a goal a few years ago and worked hard to get here, b) are in the process of attaining some goal you are striving for, c) a combination of a and b, or d) you are not here by choice, and are either happy or unhappy about it. Setting goals for ourselves allows us to shape who and what we want to be, and if we don’t have goals, we have no life-purpose.

If you are a music therapist or MT student, you probably already know the value of reaching goals, both personally and in your practice. Internship is HUGE time of growth and goal-setting in a baby music therapist’s journey. One of the purposes of this blog is to document my progress during my internship experience, so I thought I might share with you some personal and professional goals I have for myself. Some of these goals I hope to have accomplished by the end of my internship, and others I hope to have accomplished in the next few years.

By the end of my internship, I hope to:

-Create a “Big Ole Book” filled with activities and categorized by goal-area, population, and activity type.

-Create my own assessment and progress note form.

-Successfully document the effectiveness of my music therapy sessions when I get my own case-load.

-Decide where and when I wanna do grad school.

-Look and apply for jobs.

-Get back down to my “pageant weight”, which is 15 lbs lighter. (This may not seem to have much to do with music therapy, but being healthy and physically fit is a very important part of being a good therapist, and feeling energized and good about yourself is just as important for your client’s well-being as it is your own.)

By this time next year, I hope to:

-Be a Board Certified Music Therapist!

-Have a job somewhere (hopefully working as a music therapist)

-Be applying/auditioning for grad schools.

-Run in some type of marathon.

Within the next few years, I hope to:

-Help the state of Mississippi enact legislation for music therapy licensure.

-Have a music therapy association established in Mississippi.

-Establish a music therapy internship site (because you can never have too many of those!).

-Present at Regional or National conference.

-Have a master’s degree and possibly a doctorate.

-Contribute in some way to a published journal article or research project.

These goals serve as motivators and guidance in my present life choices. Over the years my goals may change and morph into something completely different, but right now the future as I see it is very bright for my career and the field of music therapy. I may not reach all of my goals I set for myself, but that’s ok. The sky is the limit, and that is very exciting! I cannot wait to meet future clients, advocate for music therapy in my state, and further my education and clinical practice.

If you are a student, intern, or even professional, I encourage you to set goals for yourself and create a “treatment plan” for your own life. I also encourage you to document your progress by journaling or blogging, which can be a great tool for self-reflection and even a form of therapy for yourself.

What are some things you would like to accomplish in the next few years? What are some goals in the past that you have already come to achieve? I would love to hear from you!

Lessons I’ve Learned So Far

It’s so hard to believe that I’m almost through my first month as an intern at the Baddour Center! I have absolutely loved it so far; this is exactly where I need to be. I have spent this first month mostly observing classes and sessions, so I thought I might share with you what I have learned at this point in my internship experience.

Lesson 1: Expect the Unexpected
No two days are ever the same, which is one of the reasons I am in love with this line of work. So how am I to prepare for something I don’t even know is coming my way? Just “roll with the punches”. The great thing about music and art is its spontaneity. Allow your residents/clients the freedom to be creative. If a resident wants to come to your office and seranade you with a little George Strait, let them.

Lesson 2: Think Like a Music Therapist
Although observing doesn’t seem like much, it is an important part of a budding music therapist’s growth experience. Observation is the time an intern has to think “What would I do if I were in the therapist’s shoes? How would I handle this situation?” Also, think about why the therapist chose a particular activity or course of action. Is it to address a certain need? To correct a behavior problem? Constantly asking yourself these questions prepares you for future practice.

Lesson 3: It’s OK to Not Be Perfect
“Perfectionist” is a word many of us use to describe ourselves, especially if you are a musician. As artists, we were born with a undeniable desire to work and practice and stress and strive to remove as many flaws from our art as possibly possible. But one of the big differences in music therapy and music teaching is that perfection is not a goal. The main focus here is to ensure that the quality of life for each resident is the best it can possibly be, and sometimes that excludes “perfection”.

I have learned so much already, but I still have a loooong way to go. I am very excited to continue this journey and see how much more I can grow in this experience. This has been an exciting whirlwind of a month, and I am looking forward to the next five months at the Baddour Center!

So what are some lessons you’ve learned in your music therapy internship? Have any tips as an intern director or professional? I would love to hear your thoughts with a comment!

A Little About the Baddour Center and Music Therapy

Although many of you who read my blog posts may already be established music therapy professionals, interns, or students, a lot of you may have no idea what music therapy or the Baddour Center is. It seems that no matter where I go or who I speak with, when I say ” I’m a music therapy intern at the Baddour Center”, the response is either a blank stare followed by ” Oh….neat!”, or “What is music therapy? What is the Baddour Center?” So in this post, I will answer a few questions that I get often in hopes that you will know a little more about my internship and future profession.

1. What is music therapy?

For some reason, I am temporarily stumped when asked this question, even though it’s the question I get asked the most! The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as ” the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” It is a valid healthcare profession, and there’s TONS of scientific studies proving its effectiveness (exciting, right!?). When asked this question, I usually say something along the lines of “although it sounds like I teach music, I help others reach non-musical goals using a variety of musical methods.” I usually follow that with an example, such as using the Hokey Pokey to teach the difference between left and right. There is a need for music therapy in all kinds of populations, from children with communication disorders to senior citizens in a nursing home. The wonderful thing about music therapy is its adaptability.

2. What is The Baddour Center?

The Baddour Center is a residential community for adults with a diagnosis of mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. It is private (meaning NO government funding) and non-profit, serving more than 150 adults from all over the country. The residents have opportunities to work, participate in various community activities (my department), and receive services that help each individual reach his/her fullest and brightest potential. The Baddour Center is “committed to giving men and women the opportunity for lives of dignity, joy and hope. Through the dedication and support of family and friends, residents accomplish goals, enjoy lifelong friendships, and realize their greatest potential in every area of life.”

3. What will you be doing at The Baddour Center?

As the music therapy intern, I will have many opportunities to utilize the performing and creative arts to help the residents reach their goals of personal growth. I will get to choreograph dance routines, help with art projects, lead group games and activities, work with Baddour’s travelling choir The Miracles, help with the Spring play, and eventually have a full caseload of residents for individual music therapy sessions. The Baddour Center employs the Person Centered Planning approach, which means that each individual’s goals, strengths, and needs are put as Priority #1. What this means for the Music Therapy department at TBC is that we see what the residents want for themselves, then use music to help them achieve their goals. Music therapy is not forced, nor is it trying to “fix” an individual’s weakness. It is looking at what he/she is good at, then giving him/her the opportunity to grow and shine!

4. What is an intellectual disability?

“Intellectual disability” is the term formally known as “mentally retarted”. As society has changed, so must the term for the developmental disability. Persons with intellectual disabilities have a lower than average I.Q. score and difficulties with adaptive behavior skills. This can be a result of birth defects, environmental factors, mutation in certain genes, and other contributing factors. The diagnoses are mild, moderate, severe, and profound based on I.Q. and abilities to adapt behaviorally.The Baddour Center is for persons with a diagnosis of mild and moderate intellectual disabilities. Some diagnoses represented at TBC are Down syndrome, William’s syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, Autism, and other developmental disabilities.

5. How long will you be at TBC? What are your plans after?

I will be at Baddour until the end of June. AMTA requires that all music therapy students undergo a six-month clinical internship upon graduation. I will graduate from William Carey in August 2013, probably take a month or so to prepare for the board exam, pass the CBMT exam (hopefully!), then become Katelyn Farris, MT-BC. Grad school is definitely in my future, but I am not sure exactly when and where. I would love to get at least a year of experience as a practicing music therapist before I decide what field of graduate music therapy I want to pursue.

Hopefully I have answered some of your questions. Please feel free to ask me anything at katelynfarris@mail.com. If you would like more information on The Baddour Center, music therapy or becoming a music therapist, feel free to ask or visit musictherapy.org or baddour.org.

Hello and Welcome!

Let me begin my first blog post by introducing myself. My name is Katelyn Farris, a 22 year-old music therapy student at William Carey University in Hattiesburg, MS. My hometown is Runnelstown, MS (haven’t heard of it? It’s about 30 miles outside of Hattiesburg, MS).I have lived there all of my 22 years until about a week ago when I moved from the Deep South to Southaven, MS (about 10 minutes south of Memphis). Upon completing all coursework at an accredited university, the American Music Therapy Association requires that a six-month internship under the supervision of a Board Certified Music Therapist be completed. My internship is at The Baddour Center in Senatobia, MS, a residential community for adults with mild and moderate intellectual disabilities. This past week was my first week, and I absolutely LOVE it so far. I look forward the next six months of my life, and I wll be sharing my experiences with you, my readers.

 One of my assignments as part of my internship is to keep a journal of some sorts on my experience as an intern, so here it is! Through this blog, I hope to connect with other interns and professionals in my field, share what I have learned as an intern and future music therapist, and hopefully give any insight I gain through experience. Internship is a HUGE part of growth in a music therapists’ journey, and this blog will document that growth. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more adventures!