The Trap of Definitions

While on placement about 2 weeks ago, a question arose which bugged me surprisingly deeply.

It came after a session with an 8-year old boy, who, being an 8 year old boy, didn’t want to engage in songs or musical activities, but was only interested in enacting imaginary stories about zombies and the apocalypse, and showing us his mindcraft structures.

It was good. Everything was good. There was quality interaction which I observed between the supervisor MT and the little guy, and she very cleverly subtly used music to support his imaginary stories and enactments, which really boosted the whole feel of things.

I couldn’t even put my finger on the bubbling question bugging me. It was not until we stepped into the office my question formed the words: “For sessions like M’s, do you ever wonder if what you’re doing is music therapy, and what is music therapy then?”

I was very grateful for the supervisor who validated my question, yet very genuinely admitted that it was a question she herself constantly struggles with, and that it may be something we just have to accept as part of the profession.

“What we were doing was a lot of imaginary play, which a play therapist or child life therapist would have been able to do a better job at. Yet on the other hand we have child life therapists who use music and sing songs with the children they work with. It can be hard to draw a clear line.”

Reflecting on her reply, it can be easy to see why inter-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary models in allied health departments are becoming so prominent these days. Rather than continue to insist that each profession stick to “what they do best”, looking at how we can support each other in overlapping areas could result in more holistic care for the patients and clients.

So in M’s case, instead of insisting that he “do music” with the music therapist, allowing him to continue with his imaginary play would have been helpful in establishing the patient-therapist relationship. M knows that he can trust the MT to allow him to express himself in his own unique way (zombies and the apocolypse). Should M continue therapy into adolescence – who knows? Those stories might turn into a script for a short film, or into a song to be recorded. I think the session might not have been strictly music therapy, but it was definitely therapeutic, and beneficial. And isn’t that what everyone is aiming for at the end of the day?

Also, I know that the questions I’m grappling with here also come from the need to prove the worth in what I do, to alleviate the fear that others will see no value in what I do. I also need to embrace ambiguity, an ongoing lesson-in-progress.

The journey is the destination.


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