As music therapists, we all know how important self-care is, yet it can be so easy to let it slip away with a busy caseload and plenty to get done from day to day. We often talk about what we can do for ourselves on our own time to maintain our well-being. Knowing what works for you to feel emotionally, socially, and physically well outside of your music therapy practice is key, however today I would like to share some tips for practicing self-care during our music therapy work and not just away from it. These are all techniques I have personally used as they have applied to my work. I hope that some of them will resonate with you or give you your own ideas that will be more applicable to your self-care needs during sessions.
Using visualization techniques has always been something that I have found useful when it comes to yoga, meditation, and all aspects of self-care. I have especially found that using visualization techniques can help remind me of certain things throughout sessions and help me to maintain healthy boundaries with clients that contribute to my well-being and of course that of my clients. One example, is if you are working with a client whose situation or circumstances you may find particularly emotionally draining and the moment you walk into the room you can feel their energy affecting yours to an extent that is distracting and perhaps causing you to feel down and drained outside of the session. Of course, this situation likely merits you to do some processing, seek supervision, or consult with your own therapist to work out any transference or countertransference occurring. In the meantime, here is a visualization technique you can try before entering the session.
Close your eyes and set your intention
i.e., I want to be fully present for my client, yet protect myself and my emotional well-being
Pick a colour that resonates with your intention
As you inhale and exhale, imagine a thin layer of this colour washing over your body
Scan your body slowly, starting from your toes and working your way up to the top of your head
Use this layer as a representation of the boundary and barrier you need for this session
Make this layer malleable throughout the session
If you feel you need more of it - breathe in a few times and make the layer thicker
If you feel you need less of it, let it slowly wash away.
2. Lean Back
In one of my favourite classes in music therapy studies, ‘Counselling Skills’, we video recorded mock
sessions with our classmates to gain insight into our developing counselling techniques, our areas of strength, and areas needing further growth and attention. I was shocked when I watched my first video. As my ‘client’ spoke to me about what she was struggling with, I noticed that the more I listened, the more I leaned in toward her. I had not been aware of this very clear physical indication that I was really listening with my whole body, mind, and heart. Listening skills and empathy are of course part of being a good therapist, however it is so important to maintain healthy boundaries as to not let the client's inner world have too much impact on our inner world. My leaning in was a tangible indication that I wasn't conscious of the physical and emotional boundaries needed to best care for myself in the moment. Taking that step to just be aware of my physical reactions during sessions has really helped me to check in with myself and my own well-being throughout. Perhaps for you it won't be about leaning in, but a different physical manifestation. Check in with yourself!
3. Plant Your Feet on the Ground
During sessions, it is important to make sure that we feel grounded throughout. Sometimes this is a challenge, depending on what is taking place in the session. I find that when I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, doing something as simple as wiggling my toes and feeling both my feet firmly grounded and rooted on the floor is very helpful! Give it a try!
4. Take Care of Your Voice
A great friend and colleague of mine, Mary Parkinson, conducted research for her Master’s degree
titled, 'Vocal Problems of Music Therapists in North America: A Survey'. She discovered that 'half of respondents (59.5%) reported using their voice for 22 or more hours a week and that approximately half of respondents reported having experienced a vocal problem (53.9%)' (Parkinson, p.3). If we are making sure that physical well-being is part of our self-care routine outside of sessions, we can’t forget about what happens during sessions. We must take care of our voices! Some things you can do: vocal warm ups (Click here), check your posture (Click here), or take lessons to improve your overall vocal use and vocal health.
Take time after your session to do some processing. Whether this is in the form of journaling, your own musical improvisation, mandala drawing, or any form of expression. It can be tempting sometimes to go straight from a session to our personal lives, and I find that the lack of transition sometimes creates a problem. Taking a few moments to process what occurred without is vital for my self-care and insights into what occurred in the session.
I hope that some of these tips were helpful for you and can translate into self-care in your sessions!