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Do We Learn Our Greatest Lessons From Our Clients?

by Kimberly on September 1, 2011 · 4 comments

I’ve never been one to break the rules. I can’t help it. Even as a teenager, when you’re supposed to rebel and come in to your own as an individual, I only snuck out of the house once (to tepee people’s houses, in case you are curious). But I had an awful time. I spent the whole night worried that I was for sure going to get caught and that I would be in so much trouble…that I never snuck out again.

So it may come as no surprise that I am trying to instill this instinct in my children. I want them to listen to me, to pay attention to what I say, and to follow the directions I give them.

Yesterday, though, was a little different. My son and I were leaving the university music building following his (first!) piano lesson. It’s a maze of a building, with several possible routes in and out. Being a creature of habit, though, I tend to take the same route over and over again.

But yesterday, J-boy had a different idea. I wanted to go one way and he another. I was thiiis close to making him “be a good listener” (a.k.a. listen to what I say and follow my rules)…but changed my mind at the last second and went his route.

Why? Because of “Joey,” a client I worked with many years ago.

Joey was one of the sweetest, most affectionate 8-year-olds I knew. And at the same time he could be aggravatingly difficult because of his impulsivity, short attention span, and mood swings…all of which he couldn’t really help because of his Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) diagnosis.

Joey lived at the residential treatment center where I worked. And, as with most institutions, there were pretty strict rules about what you could and could not do. One thing in the “could not” category was to head outside without asking for permission from a staff member.

One afternoon, though, Joey came in–alone–from being outside and found me in the room.

Me: Joey, did you ask first?

Joey: No, but come and see this.

Me (getting armed to redirect Joey, always a difficult task): Joey, you need to ask permission. You need to be with the group now.

Joey (tugging on my arm): Come on! Come and see this!

I don’t know what prompted me, but I ignored the house rule and followed Joey outside. He looked up and pointed…to a beautiful double-rainbow in the sky. Then Joey flashed me a huge smile, walked inside, and joined the group without prompting or incident.

This is why I will never forget Joey. Joey taught me that, sometimes, it can be much more valuable to forget about the “rules,”  the “cans,” and “cannots.” To take time to listen to our clients and follow their leads, because that can lead to beautiful things.

I wonder whether there are times our clients give and teach us so much more we do them. I’m often struck my what a privilege it is to be a music therapist and to witness the amazing growth and changes our clients make…even if they are small ones. What about you? What client or client encounter has impacted you and who you are?

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

JoAnn Jordan September 1, 2011 at 2:23 pm

We do learn from our clients. And, sometimes it is worth breaking rules to see the rainbows of life. Might as well let J-boy do a little self directing now. As the mom of a teen I can say he will soon be driving self directing and hopefully hearing mom’s voice in his head, too!

Rachel September 6, 2011 at 11:14 pm

Absolutely love this :). Thanks for sharing!

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