One of the professional goals I've set for myself in my career is to constantly be on a mission to learn new things and master new skills. As therapists, we're setting goals for our clients and setting expectations for them, and it's vital we do the same for ourselves. I feel this is critical in order to provide the best music therapy services possible, and also to avoid professional burn-out.
Lately, I've found myself working on the pacing of my sessions with clients. As a student and intern, I worked primarily with groups. When working in a group setting, one of the things you learn to avoid is down time. You need to have your session planned out, with smooth transitions in between. Don't allow time for anyone to get off task! It's similar to the way a musician structures their set for concerts. You gotta keep 'em engaged and wanting more!
So as I moved into more individual therapy last year, I carried this idea over. I felt the need to cram as many interventions as possible into my 50-minute sessions. No down time! Keep moving! Go, go, go!
And many times, this strategy caused me to fall flat on my face. Halfway through a session, my client would be worn out and unable to focus. I was usually exhausted by the end of the hour as well. It was just too much!
Sensing an opportunity to improve my skill set, I stepped back and examined what was happening. For many of the individuals I see, focusing their attention on the task at hand is hard work. The communication and motor goals I was addressing are demanding tasks as well. It was like one of the boot camp work out plans you see advertised on TV. I had to give my clients a breather every now and then. A water break, if you will.
So I experimented. I changed up my pacing. Once we finished an activity, I'd give the individual I was seeing a break while I took notes and set up the next intervention. And guess what? It worked! Having that little 1 to 2 minute break in between tasks allowed my clients to refocus, process what they've worked on, and re-energize for the next task. They had more energy, I had more energy, and we both worked more efficiently towards our goals.
The goals we work on in therapy are a challenge to our clients. They're supposed to be! If it were easy, than it wouldn't be a very good goal now, would it? In music therapy, we're trying to reach that next step, and that next step is always going to be a stretch.
Reaching that next step professionally is stretch for me too, but something I'm obligated to do as a clinician.
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