Back in December 2017, Ruma asked me to share about my experience as a music therapist. I was trained in the US and got my Board Certification in 2004. I had completed my 6-month full-time internship at a Veterans' Hospital in Montrose, NY, under the supervision of two wonderfully supportive supervisors. I was so inspired by them, by how music created shared moments of deep connection and enhanced well-being, and by what I've learned and witnessed about Music Therapy up to that point, that I felt I needed to learn more, before I returned to work in my home country, Singapore. That drove me to apply to Temple University for graduate study. And it was from there on that I began to appreciate the significance of research and being evidence-based. Also, I learned about the deeper levels of music therapy practice, which I can practice only if I've been properly trained. Hence, I learned to only go as deep as my training has prepared me for. Ethical practice protects the client from harm. Naturally, music therapists abide by the professional code of ethics, like other healthcare professionals.
I would like to share what I recall of a young client (and her mother) who left a deep impression on me. She was the cherished daughter of her parents. I remember her devoted mother, who was always encouraging her and praising her whole-heartedly whenever she attempted something positive. Little Angie had Rett Syndrome. Her music therapy goal was to improve the functional use of her hands, which were usually in a hand wringing or mouthing position. I offered her instruments to touch, strum, pat, rub, and hit, often with hand-over-hand prompts, while her mother held her other hand to prevent it from getting in the way, as it often did. Other times, her mother facilitated both of Angie's hands when my mine were fully occupied, i.e. playing the guitar. As I sang, "Angie is making music", Mom very quickly attuned to the music and sang along, lovingly, while gently gazing at Angie. Over the semester, we enveloped Angie in music infused with encouragement, instructions, names of often-used instruments, greetings and "thank you"s. While the music has, by now, faded away for me, what still is clear in my mind's eye is the parent's love, in this case, Mom's love. Mom made her presence known through her warm touch, her gentle voice, familiar fragrance, and reassuring charisma.
As a music therapist, I see parallels between the role I play and that of a nurturing parent, when I work with a young client. When I work with an elderly client, I recall the role my client might have played (having familiarized myself with the relevant social history of course), being a parent (aunt, uncle or grandparent) and the giver of nurturance. This perspective that acknowledges and celebrates the love that was likely once part of a client's life, gives me a common language to connect with my client. Perhaps some have not been as lucky, and have not received unconditional love (like the type described earlier). When I, as the music therapist, can offer care for a client, or support a caregiver, within the musical context, as a song offering, for example, what a precious moment it is! And that is what I get to do at work. Of course, as all this is happening, I am mindful of the observable behaviours I can document, e.g. is my client making more eye contact, sustaining attention longer (how many minutes/seconds more?) on the musical task, verbalizing coherently in the context of a lyric discussion activity, and so on. These important data are then reported to my multidisciplinary team as observations in music therapy sessions.
It is a great privilege to share moments of connectedness in the music with my clients. I wholeheartedly agree whenever my non-MT colleagues enviously remark, "Your job (as MT) is so cool!" "The MT session was so fun!!" I get to bask in the sounds of love of all kinds of love; love between family members (whether living or not), between friends (old and newfound), sweet, bitter, intense, fleeting, complicated, spiritual, don't need love, lack of love, you name it. There is probably a song out there for any kind of love. If there isn't, let your music therapist improvise one this very instant.
About the author:
Ng Wang Feng, MMT, MT-BC (U.S.A.), NMT
Board Certified Music Therapist
Neurologic Music Therapist, Fellow