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!