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Stuck in a Rut? 11 Ways to Get Your Music Therapy Mojo Back

by Kimberly on August 2, 2012 · 13 comments

I remember the feeling well of trying to prepare for a session and feeling like I was doing the same thing over and over and over again. Feeling bored. Feeling worried that my client might be getting bored. And what happens if they are? Will they continue to improve in music therapy? And what if they don’t? Does this make me a horrible music therapist? Ah! I’m stuck in a rut! What can I do?!

Okay…maybe it was never quite that extreme. But still…there have been times I’ve felt like my ideas were stale. My creativity juices were just not flowing. Sometimes it stemmed from me feeling bored; sometimes from the client not progressing as much as I’d have hoped.

I’d like to think—and I really, really hope—that I’m not the only one who’s struggled with this. So what is a therapist to do in this situation? Why…get un-stuck!

With that in mind, here are 11 ideas for getting out your music therapy mojo back when you are feeling stuck in a rut:

  1. Do a Google search on “music therapy and (insert clinical population).” See what others are saying and recommending in terms of interventions and treatment strategies.
  2. Reach out to a local university and offer to supervise a student. Fresh blood = fresh ideas.
  3. Take a hike. Literally. There’s something about being in nature, about listening to her sounds, that can provide immense inspiration.
  4. Attend a music therapy conference. You’re bound to feel re-invigorating and re-inspired when you return home.
  5. Have a drink (of the coffee or alcoholic variety) with another music therapist. Sometimes talking through and processing your situation can help.
  6. Take lessons. Guitar lessons, piano lessons, voice lessons, songwriting lessons, improvisation lessons…sometimes stretching ourselves musically can provide fresh ideas.
  7. Participate in professional supervision. It’s kind of like #5…but occurs on a regular basis and is more focused towards your professional needs.
  8. Take up a new hobby. This can involve crafts, baking, exercise, cooking, self development…new ideas and growth opportunities outside of the workplace may spark the same inside the workplace.
  9. Take a break. Even if it’s a simply a day off to get a massage or go to a matinee movie, sometimes a little time away can provide a little perspective.
  10. Read a new book. This can be music therapy or non-music therapy related…as long as it’s a book that is not in your usual repertoire.
  11. Make peace with it. True story: I once tried to change the opening song for a group of children I was working with. I was getting bored with it and was worried they were, too. I was wrong. Every single one of them asked for the old opening song back. Turns out it’s what they needed to feel safe as they transitioned to music therapy. I made peace with the simplicity of the song…and kept using it til I left.

What about you? Do you have any ideas to add that help you get unstuck?

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Rachelle Norman August 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm

These are all great idea, Kimberly! My number one suggestion: PLAY MUSIC. Not the music that you use in sessions, but the kind of music that you like. I enjoy sight-reading out of fake books at my piano – I haven’t yet learned all of the songs in the half dozen fake books I own, and I generally find something new for sessions while caring for my musical self.

Also, let me mention that I’m offering web-based supervision now. 🙂

Thank you for this post!
Rachelle Norman´s last blog post ..Can Music Cause Harm? (Part Two)

Antoinette Morrison August 3, 2012 at 9:15 am

So glad this was here today to read! I know that the “lost” feeling happens at least once with every client, and it always goes someplace, but I hate it when I’m in it.

Carol Statella August 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm

These are all great (about to hike right now:-) – and thanks for bringing this out – I wonder if MTs sometimes have a hard time admitting this to ourselves, let alone other people. Then they feel isolated and “not enough.” Then . . . possible draining of the well and burnout.

Back in the ’80s my art therapy colleagues really turned me on to the idea of ongoing professional supervision. Had it by phone with a wonderful mentor and it was so helpful. He really had me work with countertransference issues and internal/external pressures to “do.”

Kimberly August 6, 2012 at 10:02 am

What a great idea, Carol! I think professional supervision–and at the least having a mentor–can be incredibly helpful to young professionals. And I hope you enjoyed your hike 🙂 ~Kimberly

Kimberly August 6, 2012 at 10:03 am

No kidding! I hate it, too…but it does generally lead to change and growth in some way. Thanks for sharing, Antoinette! ~Kimberly

Kimberly August 6, 2012 at 10:04 am

Nice addition, Rachelle! Thanks for the suggestion 🙂 ~Kimberly

JoAnn Jordan August 7, 2012 at 8:12 am

Living so far removed from other music therapists, I find a great deal of hsupport & help through social media.

Karen August 7, 2012 at 11:38 am

I’m in a rut right now! I work for hospice (4 1/2 yrs now) and I would be delighted if I never sang Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, The Old Rugged Cross, In The Garden, or What A Friend We Have in Jesus again! And I grew up loving these songs!

What I’ve been doing is learning more songs (and yes, it’s all on my own time). More and more and more. The more variety I have to sing for people, the less often I have to sing I Walk The Line or Home On The Range.

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Keelan Ryan November 13, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Something I noticed from being a musician. I don’t know how to get out of the rut. But when you do finally get your song going, there are factors that help enhance your thought process in making new music.
1. warm hands, you don’t want your muscles to seize up in the cold
2.cold head, your brain processes at a higher rate believe it or not those “music juices” involves adrenaline. It’s better to keep your head cool.
3. Any way to buffer out sounds that don’t involve the experience. like high quality headphones (that dont involve, I like most engines slowly revving from 3-4.5 thousand rpm,s very stimulating to my ears when most songs hit a climax, construction across the street though, not so much)
4. ALONE unless with other musicians. feel comfortable to let your arms dance and your eyes close. it might look weird but holding back isn’t good.
5. This is to go abit far, but nerve cells are stimulated when “music juices” are flowing. So if you had a speaker mounted to you or your seat that vibrated your body (specifically the chest area) it would fully submerge you in your creation.
Keelan Ryan´s last blog post ..[PsychToday] Music, Your GPS Voice, and the Science of Timbre

Kimberly November 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Thank you for sharing! It’s nice to hear from someone with a different perspective 🙂 ~Kimberly

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