Category Archives: Music Therapy

Music Collage

At a session one evening, we did something called a Music Collage. The process involves participants choosing a theme, actively listening to a recorded piece of music, selecting images from a range of pictures to fit the theme, depending on how they interpret and think about it, and sharing which aspects of their collage stood out the most for them.

The theme we chose was Movement vs Stillness, and the music selected was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, 1st movement.

“The person on the wheelchair… because it seems like he is still, but at the same time I realised the wheelchair is also about movement.. and I realise… it’s all about perspective. There is no full movement or full stillness. It is all how you look at it.”

“I feel that my collage represents my… character. Like, sometimes I can be really active and loud and outgoing, but other times I will just be quiet and still. So there is no picture that stands out for me.”

“I feel like the music was describing something bad about to happen. So I chose the picture of this crab… the music is describing the journey of the crab as it’s about to be killed and cooked and eaten… from movement to stillness..”

Through their insights and sharing, I have got to know this group of people over the past 2 months. Their personalities, sense of humour, quirks and what means the most to them. And with the time that has flown by, we are also on the brink of parting ways. It has been a blessing to be with them on this journey, one I will always be thankful for.

Music and Mood Regulation

Sometimes it frustrates me that the potential of music doesn’t seem to be reached in the classroom. Especially after experiencing what music could really do for individuals and small groups. It frustrates me that that has to be compromised in the name of curriculum, school needs and manpower.

If holistic and equal education is key, why doesn’t the government provide funds for small group instrumental instruction and music appreciation? Students would still be able to experience the relationary and social nature of music making with the close relationship of a teacher, without the same teacher having to monitor 35 other kids in the classroom at the same time – something will have to give.

This week’s article is “The Role of Music in Adolescents’ Mood Regulation“. The immense and expansive nature which music can play in mood and emotional regulation in adolescents makes me wonder if they really need classroom music teachers at all.

We all have the instinctive and intuitive drive to use music in our daily lives – to counter sadness, to pump up joy, to divert attention, to focus, to fill voids around and within us. How can music lessons in school build on this intuition, such that students feel validated and valued as a person? And I believe that this is something the arts can do and scaffold, far more than any other subject, which usually involves a steep learning curve.

I thought about my overarching aim for this year – for students to leave each class feeling accomplished and developed. Be it cognitively, physically, socially, emotionally – there is potential to touch any of these areas through music at any one time. So while students may already have the ability to use music for self-mood regulation, surely they can also be expanded to feel the beauty of creating a song cover arrangement, feel the adrenaline of playing in unison, feel the anticipation of listening for nuances and basically just become more “whole” as a person through these experiences.

And so could we – even as adults.

 

Article: The Role of Music in Adolescent Development

By: Miranda, D. (2013).

From: International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 18:1, 5-22.

 

This article is a literature review, which highlights how much of adolescent developmental psychology literature and research leaves out the role of music in an adolescent’s life. It concludes by stating that more research into the developmental role of music can present more insights into the psychological, social and cultural needs of the contemporary adolescent.

 

My reflection:

We know that most of the songs we seem close to our hearts are the songs we listen to from our teens to 20s. There is more research and literature about how music can help in reminiscing in elderly patients and clients, helping them make sense of the world around them in their aging years. “Use of familiar repertoire” is a staple music therapy intervention and technique in working with aged care. Most of these “familiar repertoire” are the songs that accompanied them through the tumultuous years of adolescence and young adulthood.

It would make sense, then, to study how the same songs which adolescents are identifying with as they are growing up, are being used (consciously or unconsciously)to help them cope in their psychological and emotional development. With more understanding in this area, teachers, developmental psychologists, counsellors, and therapists might then be able to better understand how to help adolescents cope with the struggles of growing up. These struggles could include: Peer pressure, identity searching and formation, emotional issues, mental health.

Example: I’ve noticed that having the same tastes in music is one of the first things which bond students together into long-lasting friendships. It could be the latest k-pop band, or just the single which became a hit 2 years ago. The moment 2 or more individuals find out they have the same tastes in music, a tentative friendship is formed, which could then be strengthened or dissolved depending on other factors. Music, then, could be used as a bonding agent within the class, especially to aid students who might not be as apt or skillful in social aspects.

During music lessons this week, I asked students what is their “current favorite song”, promising that I would try to incorporate those into our music lessons. My motive, apart from making the lessons relevant to them, is also to improve the social dynamics of the class. Through group musical activities, individuals who might have found it hard to adjust to the social environment would be given an alternative platform to engage with their classmates, and hopefully blend in better into the social fabric of the class. Being well-adjusted is one of the key factors which could prevent later problems from surfacing, such as bullying, truancy or loss of interest in academic studies.

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Am aiming to read and reflect on at least on music therapy article every week and see how I can apply / transfer the content into the music classroom.  Part of self-development and reflective practice, and to not lose touch with the therapeutic side of things!

Bye Di

And so we have reached this moment, the moment we knew was going to come but did not know how it would unfold. It was our last session together, and we had geared ourselves up to say Goodbye.

To my surprise, I felt able to regulate my emotions relatively well, and Di too. Though we were slightly teary at first (at least I was), we did all the usual things during the session. When it came to the last segment of improvisation, I asked her what theme she would like to improvise around this week, and her answer wasn’t totally surprising: “Saying farewell… To you.”

We then talked about the emotions that came with saying goodbye. Di reflected that perhaps it was something that came with age, but she felt that she had become better at saying goodbye in recent years, whereas a few years back she would have been devastated at the thought of parting with people she cared about. I added that it was true, we do gain maturity with age, and that goodbyes need not signify endings, but could even herald new beginnings and navigations which can only be experienced with a physical parting. We exchanged cards which contained heartfelt words we probably felt more comfortable writing than saying, and admired the CD we had put together, containing recordings of our musical explorations.

We agreed that our parting need not be sad and teary. Instead, it could be a celebratory event, a parting filled with happy gratitude that we had the chance to meet, get to know, explore emotions and music together. We can feel gratitude that from this client-therapist relationship, we can now move to friendship, which is not a bad thing at all, from the therapeutic point of view.

And so with these frames in mind, we embarked on our final improvisation on the keyboard together. And it felt like what we had discussed: Celebratory. With Gratitude. Communicative and connected. My only regret was that we didn’t have it recorded, though the presence of recording equipment might very well have hindered the authenticity of the improvisation.

“That’s all right,” Di said, when we spoke about what it pity it was that we didn’t record the improvisation. “We have it inside us.”

And she went on to say the line which would surprise me most: “I feel a lot more confident expressing myself through the keyboard now.”

I was surprised because:
– Increasing sense of empowerment and resources for expression had always been the main goals of her sessions.
– I have never told her that these were the goals planned for her, or that we had goals to begin with.
– Di has NEVER described herself as being confident in anything.

The fact that she said that on her own accord, the fact that she has been able to recognize the change that has taken place on a personal level – it is truly a testimony to the power of music to facilitate non-verbal communication, the mystery and magic of improvisation, and the wonders that can emerge when 2 people connect.

To have been able to experience this journey and transformation, learn, and gain a precious friendship, I am immensely thankful.

Not “JUST”.

At a workshop for allied health students a week or two ago, I witnessed an exchange which stuck with me.

It started when one of the physiotherapy students asked our facilitator: “Are — (I forgot which profession she mentioned) doctors? Or medical personnel of some sort?”

Our facilitator replied no, the mentioned profession were not considered doctors or medical personnel.

“Oh ok.” The student replied. “They’re just allied health then.”

At that, the facilitator pricked back: “Not JUST. They’re allied health!” And because she had a twinkle in her eye, a little ripple of laughter ran around the circle.

The exchange stuck with me, more than any of the content spoken (family-centered philosophies and practice), and more than any of the role plays enacted (though I must say we were given some pretty tricky situations to respond to).

The exchange stuck with me because it occurred how important it is to take ourselves seriously before anyone else can. I know it’s common sense, all linked to the “love yourself before others can love you” train of thought, but the response from that student, the way she used the word “just”, stirred something in me. And I realize I could have been guilty of labeling myself or my profession as a “just” as well. After all, we don’t study for 5-6 years like the medical students do. We don’t sit for rigorous exams and tests. We don’t earn $60 000 or more a year. We don’t have to work shifts or hours as long. We don’t have to make decisions that concern life and death. We’re “just” allied health.

But if we were to think like that, who else would there be to advocate for the professions? To stress the importance of psycho-social experiences in early intervention and it’s impact on the type of adult one grows up to be? To come up with individualized  interventions for possible cognitive development in special needs? To understand how environmental and relational factors interact with each other to form an individual’s worldview and respond accordingly? To look at what a disabled individual can do instead of simply what they are limited by? To help a family through grief when their loved one is dying?

Medicine and science could probably solve a lot of problems, and yes, robots may take over the world someday, but for now I firmly believe: Without the holistic care of the person, existence can be more burdensome than meaningful. And that’s why it’s not “just” allied health. It’s ALLIED health.

Teacher Supervision

When I first heard this word: “Supervision”, my heart was struck with fear and worry. And is it any surprise, coming from a system and culture where this word is linked to images of someone standing by the side while you do your work, watching you with a critical eye to make sure you’re doing your work “right”, making sure you’re meeting all the necessary criteria and prerequisites to be deemed as passed and qualified? Supervision, even with the best of intentions, have unfortunately become a word of relatively negative connotations in our work culture.

Despite my initial trepidation, I soon realized, to my relief and delight, that Supervision in music therapy (or Allied Health, for that matter), does not have direct correlations to my perceived impressions of being Supervised. It’s in fact the opposite –  a whole culture of being non-judgemental, accepting that the typical human being is failable, that everyone has emotional baggage, that everyone has times when they need to talk to someone about their emotions and not only about how good they are in their skills and job.

In such an emotionally-charged job, Supervision is seen as necessary and some places, like mental health wards, make supervision mandatory for the clinicians there.

I was thinking about all these, and wondered: Why isn’t Supervision made mandatory for Teachers?

Not supervision in the lesson-observation, work review sense, of course, but in the above-mentioned sense. Supervision for teachers in the sense of each teacher having someone they can go to to sort out whatever comes up in their work. It may not even necessarily be senior teachers, just like music therapists don’t always go to senior music therapists for supervision. As long as it’s someone who understands the nature of their work and the nature of the client population they work with. For teachers, it may be someone who works with students of similar socio-economic status, or perhaps someone in another school who teachers the same subject.

There is informal Supervision, of course. Teachers talk to each other all the time. Along the aisles of the staff room, along the corridors. Over lunch. Mentor-mentee sessions – these probably come closest to Supervision. But even then (at least in my experience), the mentor-mentee talks were always filled with issues like classroom management issues, pedagogy, effective delivery, etc. There was little focus on the individual perspectives of the teacher and how that individuality could affect day to day interaction and working.

The best supervision I’ve had so far was when working in Mental Health. The client group was undoubtedly the most challenging I had encountered up till that point, and having good supervision was so essential to my well – being, development and growth.

In the confidential, closed door, one-to-one sessions, I was able to bring up emotions I felt when working with certain people, ask questions about MT interventions and techniques, discuss academic readings and discourses with the much more experienced and ever non-judgemental supervisor. That experience really made me view Supervision in a different light, and now I find myself wondering if the burn-out rate among teachers would be less if we could have a culture like this. A culture of supervision where it is ok to talk about our problems and inadequacies, instead of trying to hide them and hope that you can overcome them in time to produce a good lesson for observation, to push for that school carnival, to pull off that speech day concert.

Over a meeting with Lecturer K the other day, she asked me how I was going with the course, giving me very encouraging feedback and advice. One of them was: make sure you get yourself a good supervisor and continue to develop yourself professionally when you start working as a MT.

The culture of supervision is so strong in this field that anyone who lets it be known that they don’t have a supervisor to go to is frowned upon and thought of as less-than-professional. It implies that they are not making efforts to reflect, talk about the difficulties faced, and possibly not keeping up to date with the latest developments in the field. That’s how important Supervision is viewed.

Maybe it’s time someone introduces this concept to Education Ministries and get something started. Teachers, like therapists, also give a lot of themselves – mentally, emotionally and physically. And any work with vulnerable individuals is bound to expose vulnerable aspects of ourselves too. Why should teachers be denied the platform to work through these vulnerabilities, take charge of their own professional and personal growth, empower themselves to be the best person they can be, and ultimately present the best aspects of themselves and their abilities to the ones that matter the most- their students ?