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  • Shawna Vernisie, MA, LCAT, MT-BC

Sharing a Voice through Supervision

Updated: Jun 23

In a recent blog post, Amy posed a question to her readers: “So if you were a patient on your caseload right now, what might you need?” I can’t believe how much I resonate with this sentiment during this time.

I work in a busy pediatric hospital in Queens, NY, primarily within the PICU, step-down/intermediate care unit, and medical/surgical unit. However, much of my environment, workload and responsibilities changed as the pandemic came to a climax. I no longer work on the units I provided services to regularly. Instead, I shifted to working throughout the entire hospital and providing music therapy services to every inpatient unit. My co-therapist and I split shifts. When she is at the hospital, I am working from home, working on various non-clinical projects and writing opportunities. Pediatric units, once admitted children for asthma, cystic fibrosis, and appendectomies, have become surge units for adults admitted for COVID-19. One of our units even became an adult oncology unit. We weren’t servicing these units; we were strictly to be providing in-person and virtual visits to our remaining inpatient and outpatient pediatric units.

Back to Amy’s question…what might we need right now? I can think of so many things: Stability, comfort, socialization, understanding – all of our basic needs that so often our patients and families are stripped of. It got me to thinking of my home units - our PICU. So many of our patients in the PICU are experiencing instability, discomfort, isolation, and delirium. What is this parallel process and how can I still provide optimal care to these patients, these families, and staff, while also taking care of myself as a clinician?


I have been thinking of the stressors of being one, single music therapist for an entire hospital. Sure, I have my co-therapist – who I appreciate working with beyond measure – but unfortunately, we are working split shifts. For that day, I am the lone Music Therapist in-house. I often coach and provide support to my colleagues about having two hands. You can only do as much as those two hands can hold for that moment…but why is it so darn hard to take our own advice?

I became a music therapist largely due to my desire to help and advocate for others. This time has allowed me introspection that these same desires may also resonate with my self-care needs. It’s so important to recognize how we can help and advocate for ourselves – whether that be through basic need structures like hygiene and shelter or through work structures, such as advocating for programming and organizational awareness.


One self-care duty I have in place for myself is supervision. I know it’s something we hear about and preach often as music therapists, but truly engrossing myself in the process of supervision - allowing myself to not only support my colleagues but allow support for my needs has been instrumental to my self-care. I have been attending a monthly, peer supervision group at my past professor’s residence for the past three years, where I meet with other music therapy colleagues to discuss cases, counter-transferences, and work challenges we’ve had. I truly believe that this group is the reason why I have been able to flourish and gain resiliency in our field.

You see, constant advocacy, education, and misrepresentation can take a toll on a music therapist. They can easily lead to the road of burnout and compassion fatigue, which I have experienced myself. However, through supervision, I’ve had the opportunity to express myself, flow into a deeper space of understanding and insight, and have had a container of musicianship and support through my colleagues during supervision. I can’t stress enough how important supervision can be – not only for pediatric music therapists, but to music therapists as a whole.

However, pediatric music therapists have unique challenges to face in their setting. We are healthcare leaders, as our friends at Music Therapy Ed reminds us. We are often the unsung heroes, or the unknown, healthcare professionals. Although we are loud enough (sometimes) to be heard in the hall, we are not yet at the forefront of interdisciplinary care. I am honored and blessed to be a part of a team that tends to “get” music therapy and understands the unique benefits that our profession has to offer patients in critical care. With that blessing comes a unique opportunity (and let’s face it, sometimes a challenge) to constantly advocate and educate. This is something I’ve had the opportunity to process and understand more fully through supervision.

I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you to reach out. Whether it’s through formal supervision or a stairwell conversation with a colleague (I’ve had my fair share of those pull-my-hair-out vent sessions), you can build resiliency and engage in self-care by speaking out or speaking to your challenges. Continue to ask yourself, as Amy asked her readers, what do you need? Remember that in order to take care of your patients, you must allow time to take care of yourself.

Remember that YOU matter.

Sending you peace and harmony,

Shawna



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