Tag Archives: experiences

Self Care

A recent session with a newly referred lady, “Marge”, at the nursing home, left us feeling rather drained and tired by the end of the day. Not physically, considering all we did was sit in the garden and chat with her, but emotionally. Because all she did was tell us about how she has no one in the world, how she wanted to kill herself, how the only reason why she hasn’t done it yet is because she hasn’t found a foolproof way to do it. For 45 minutes to an hour.

Yet, in between her dismal rants, she sings “Over the Rainbow” in a beautiful quivering voice, she laughs at the birds who hop over to join us, and at the male nurses who have to help another female resident with her knitting.

Her words speak of pain and sorrow accumulated over the years, and carry an unmistakable cry for help. There is nothing we can do except to be there for her, with her. Which is what we did.

But, the fatigue we felt at the end of the session led us to question the aspect of self-care. The fact that we were glad that hers was the last session for the day, that we would not implicate another client/resident with the negativity we felt, shows how much it affected us.

Where does one draw the line between being there for a person and being emotionally implicated? Is it selfish to want to protect ourselves from the emotional baggage spilling out of the people we work so closely with? When our aim is to help them process their emotions and come to resolution? Can we do that without feeling the weight of their sorrow ourselves?

It’s times like these when I wish this placement was supervised instead of being independent. Thankfully there are always experienced people to turn to when we need them.

Vocal Improvisation

The human voice is known to be one of the most versatile, communicative, readily available and expressive instruments we have.

Ever since K became our lecturer this semester, she has been emphasizing on the power of the human voice and singing, making me realize that we should not underestimate its potential for therapeutic use and communication. In placements, E has also been a wonderful role model, applying various vocal and piano improvisational techniques for me to learn from.

This week, she said my next step would be to improvise on the piano AND vocally at the same time, which is particularly useful for communicating with clients like A.

At the moment, its like asking me to write with both hands at the same time. I would not be able to do both simultaneously, but if I hold on to one and concentrate on the other, something of compromised quality might come out.

I admitted to E that vocal expression is not my strongest area. I’ve always been happy to be in the background, to accompany instrumentalists and vocalists, to play in a group, to musically support, not lead. All these mindsets have been challenged ever since I stepped into therapy – in a good way. But vocal improvisation and expression has remained an area I still lack confidence in. E agreed, understanding as a pianist herself that we like to “hide behind the piano” (spot on). Her reply to my saying that I tend to think too much when I’m not confident touched me greatly: “I think you’re musical enough to just tune into the tonality, even if you don’t know what key it’s in… I don’t say this to everybody.”

I was reminded of what R said earlier this year about the elusive quality of musicality as well, and suddenly my mammoth was temporarily silenced. 2 professional therapists seem to imply the same thing – that I need to have more trust and confidence in my own abilities, work on projection, and apply them in a functional way. They must see something I don’t, or maybe not as clearly.

I am thankful to have wonderful supervisors to point out what I cannot see in myself, practical experiences to apply what I learn, the space to be less than perfect and improve from where I am.
This week’s practice regime will work on improvising pianistically and vocally at the same time, with as little mammoth presence as possible:)

Expression and Interaction

MQ is one of the new clients I saw for the first time this recent Tuesday. She has Tuberous Sclerosis – a condition I honestly have never heard of until last week. As there is no cure for this condition, the main therapeutic goals for her are simply expression and interaction.

At the start of the session and up till slightly after the mid-way point, MQ was showing apprehension about my presence, being resistant to changes and unfamiliar people. She refused to sit in the chair next to the piano when I was there, and at one point she even took my arm and gestured for me to stand further away so that she could have more physical space. While we complied with all these, E was constantly trying to re-introduce the physical proximity between us, trying to make MQ comfortable with me being near her.

At the start, while E and MQ improvised on the woodblocks, I was tapping on the xylophone, 2 meters away. Then E tried to introduce the wind chimes.

Picture Source

MQ resisted greatly to this, presumably because it sounded too clashing for her. But when E started to play a gentle piano accompaniment, and I softly tinkled the high notes, MQ stopped resisting and seemed to pause to listen.

Halfway into this exchange, E whispered to me to get the hand chimes, while she continued the piano accompaniment so as not to break MQ’s focus.

Picture Source

This was the instrument which MQ seemed to really identify with. I held 2 in my hands at first and played to her. She seemed to enjoy the sound and started swaying from side to side in wider motions. When E suggested to her that she take one and play it herself, MQ allowed me to hand her one, and allowed me to stand closer to her in the process. That was when things really started to take off. It was as if the instrument allowed MQ to unleash all the musical expression within her. With E still playing the comforting accompaniment on the piano, MQ was swaying more vigorously than ever, smiling, laughing, vocalizing. And… She had finally allowed me to stand face to face in front of her, without pushing me away!

We remained like this for the rest of the session – the 2 of us with a hand chime each, swaying together, smiling.. and E supporting with the piano.

E later commented that it is unusual for MQ to allow a totally new and unfamiliar person to stand that close to her within the time span of 1 session. No doubt the music helped to make her feel less threatened when confronted with change and unfamiliarity.

Expression and interaction – achieved – at least for this session.

Woes of the Short-Sighted

Is that black spot on the floor a cockroach?

It does look like one, but its not moving.

It’s probably not a cockroach. It’s just a speck of dirt on the floor.

It can’t be a cockroach.

Just relax and continue walking.

Just walk past it and you’ll see that it isn’t a cockroach at all.

*5 steps away from Spot, Spot suddenly comes alive and scurries away*

It was a cockroach after all.

Once Again

Has it already been almost a year since we experienced the heavenly clear blue skies and the fresh tranquil air of Chiangmai?

When we could slow down, look at the clouds, admire passing scenery, and take in life in its simple beauty?

In less than 24 hours, another adventure awaits – and I hope it will be another good one 🙂



Today’s Soundtrack: Juliet Pang’s “Once Again”