I’m in the warm-up right now, right here, behind my computer as I type. I’m like a new patient who has always wanted to try music therapy, and I’m super excited and ready to go, even though I don’t know much about what I’m about to jump into. I don’t need a hello song, at least I don’t think I do — but I am standing here at the precipice of something new and I am getting ready to jump into the exciting unknown.
Although I know a lot about my own work, I’m comfortable writing about it, and I trust and respect the three colleagues that I am collaborating with, I don’t know what it’s like to write here, to write with Jillian, Kristen, and Noah, to edit a blog with them. I don’t know what’s going to emerge when our four selves, everything that we each contribute consciously and unconsciously, academically and emotionally, practically and intuitively, all come together. I don’t know what will happen when whatever we create interfaces with our readers and everything that you bring. There is much potential here.
It really is all about the relationship. We’re talking about blog-writing now, not a therapy session, but perhaps the tenet is valuable applied to both places. Just like in therapy, something is going to emerge here. Something bigger than the sum of its parts. Like a gestalt, or an analytic third. But we can talk about those another day.
I want to acknowledge what I understand about my part in this process. I’ve worked as a music therapist in end-of-life care settings since 2005, which has included home hospice and palliative medicine departments. Currently I work for a general medical hospital in Manhattan, seeing adult patients of all ages. Experience-wise, I think a unique element that I bring to the table for this blog is the acute, almost emergency-like aspect of my current work. Hospice allows for longer-term relationships where the music therapist can help the patient or family on a slow road of acceptance and physical decline, but in the hospital it’s usually something else entirely. The work is typically very short-term, and often, in mirroring the patient and family experience, very chaotic. I might be there at the moment that the patient finds out that his diagnosis is terminal, or when an intubation or extubation happens. I might be texting the doctor to come quick and bring the paperwork because a patient has finally decided, mid-session with me, that they are ready to sign that DNR after all. I am an advocate, sometimes, for hospice. While I may treat pain or help people to relax using music, I see my main purpose in the hospital as helping people to clear space for the full range of their feelings to be acknowledged and expressed. In my experience, making that space is often what helps decrease pain perception, relieve anxiety and depression, and allow the patient or family to make the most appropriate care decisions.
In terms of my identity as a music therapist, and what you might see me writing about here, I can say that I rely heavily on songs, preferably the patient or family member’s spontaneous song choice. I also ascribe to an understanding of music therapy introduced to me by Brian Abrams (2011), where music is understood as a way of being, not necessarily connected to a specific sound stimulus. I frequently have sessions with no music. I also spend a large portion of my week working in my own office as a psychotherapist, typically treating young and middle-aged adults with childhood trauma histories, where I use music very rarely. My orientation to the work, both in the hospital and in my private practice, is focused on psychoanalytic and Jungian thought, which means (among other things) that I am very interested in dreams and metaphors as they emerge in session, and that I see transference and countertransference as the most important tools at my disposal. I’m looking forward to exploring those concepts and how I believe they are important in end-of-life care on this blog.
So, here I am at the precipice, waiting to drop my first contribution into our shared space and see what happens, what I might help create, what we all might help create. I am terribly excited to see what might emerge!
Abrams, B. (2011). Understanding music as a temporal-aesthetic way of being: Implications for a general theory of music therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38 (2011), 114-119.