I swear, time is a peculiar thing – you blink, and 10 years pass by, both slowly and all at once. Back in 2014, I embarked on a journey founding a new music therapy program in a children's hospital. Fast forward to 2024, I find myself in familiar scrubs and sneakers, playing similar tunes but with a richer blend of perspective and experience. Over these years, I've been blessed to work with hundreds of patients and families from diverse backgrounds, learning endlessly about this work and myself. As I step into my second decade of music therapy practice, I want to share some valuable takeaways.
Aim for Rapport, Not Favoritism
Initially, I believed that being a patient's favorite was a sign of a successful therapist. It's flattering to be wanted, right? In my early days, a young girl battling cancer taught me an important lesson. Our connection was instant, and soon, she relied exclusively on me for every medical procedure. Her eventual passing left me feeling completely burnt out, overwhelmed and contemplating whether being her 'favorite' really served her or I best. Our true role is to empower, not overshadow. We should encourage patients and families to recognize their own strengths and resilience, and to trust the wide support network around them, including other safe and capable colleagues.
True Advocacy Comes Through Earned Respect
As a novice, nestled in the 'music therapy bubble' of my internship, I was shielded from some of the harsh realities of advocacy. I now often find myself wondering what my supervisors dealt with behind the scenes. Starting my own program was an eye-opener, with some healthcare workers less enthused about music therapy than expected. When you study about advocacy in school, there is a lof of focus on crafting your elevator speech. While helpful, I've learned that advocacy isn't just about presentations or elevator pitches. It's about the daily interactions, the collaboration with colleagues, the balance between speaking and listening. It's how we conduct ourselves both at the bedside and away from it that shapes how our profession is perceived by others.
Balance Is Key
This is a lesson I'm perpetually learning. The vast and unique nature of music means its applications in a hospital setting are numerous. One day, it's playing Grateful Dead songs with a toddler and his dad, another day it might be holding a teenager's hand and breathing together through a dressing change. Recognizing that you can't be everything to every patient is crucial. Saying 'yes' to one opportunity often means saying 'no' to another. There are times for ambitious projects and research, and there are times when the best thing is to clock out on time, slow down and focus more on your life outside of MT-BC. Understanding and respecting your own limits is as important as understanding those of your patients.
Yes, the Work is Really That Beautiful
Despite the challenges, there are moments of pure, transformative beauty in music therapy. We are privileged to accompany patients and families through some of their most challenging moments. The magic in a mother's gentle hum to her dying child, the joy in a child's laughter while playing a 'fart piano' - these are moments of unspoken depth that music therapy brings to light. This magic, touches what medicine often cannot and brings humanness back to the bedside. Cherish and honor the beauty and uniqueness of your role.
As I reflect on these lessons, I realize how much music therapy has shaped not just my practice, but my understanding of life, empathy, and human connection. Here's to another decade of learning, growing, and making a difference through the power of music therapy.
Love, love, love,