As my 7th year of being a professional music therapist ends and I begin the 8th year of my career, I have taken some time to reflect on all the reasons I became a music therapist.
As a teenager, I had a lot going on in my life that took quite a bit of processing. (What teenager doesn’t have that?) It is a major time of transition because one is developing independence (which, therefore, means less dependence on one’s parents, whether they like that or not) and learning who one really is and where her place is in the world. I won’t even mention the hormones that come into play in a teenage girl’s life! I was the oldest child and the only daughter, which I suspect made it more difficult for my parents to understand how to deal with me at this age. There were numerous arguments with my parents, various love interests that came and went, and lots of drama at school, which is probably pretty common for most teenagers.
I am firmly convinced that music is what kept me afloat during these formative years. I began playing the piano when I was 7, so by the time I became a teenager, I had a fairly good handle on my piano skills and could play quite a bit of repertoire ranging from classical music to church music to popular songs. I also played the flute and mallet percussion in the high school band (including marching band, concert band, jazz band, and pep band) and was the drum major of the marching band my junior and senior years.
There were several things I did on a regular basis that relieved a lot of my anxiety and stress that I didn’t come to know as being therapeutic until much later.
1. I spent a lot of time when I got home from school just playing my piano. I usually didn’t play anything that was written. Instead, I improvised in keys that matched my mood. I had no idea at the time, but now as a music therapist, I know that I was using improvisational techniques to help me to express my emotions in a positive way.
2. I also wrote numerous songs. No one has ever seen these songs because I always viewed them as too personal (and probably not very good) but they seemed to make me feel better. There was something therapeutic about writing it all down on paper and getting to sing and play about it.
3. I spent hours (and I mean HOURS) in my room listening to all kinds of music, trying to find the perfect song to match whatever situation I was in at the time. Now I know that this is a form of lyric analysis, but at the time, I was merely looking for something to validate how I felt. Once I found the perfect song, I would listen to it over and over again, sometimes singing along with my music. I can’t imagine what my parents thought I was doing up there. I often spent time writing out the parts of the lyrics that I could relate to the most. I have since found tons of folded up lined paper with numerous lyrics scattered all over the page in collage-like fashion.
4. If you were to look at the relationships and friendships I had at that time, they were almost all related to musical extracurricular activities. I felt closest to these people, probably because we had played music together. We knew each other well because so much of our personalities spilled over into our playing. We had a connection that really could not be expressed in words because so much of it just came out in the music, whether it was while playing in a large ensemble, me accompanying a soloist or vocalist, or just improvising with friends after band practice. Because we knew each other musically, we developed a stronger relationship outside of the band/practice/rehearsal room.
I’m sure there are many more things I did that I am missing here, but the point is that all those years, I voluntarily chose to use music as my outlet. Because of this, I know that music works as a way to heal and process all kinds of emotions. Even at the age of 31, I still remember how it felt to be a teenager and whenever I hear those songs I used to listen to in my room or come across some old original songs I wrote during that time, it brings me back to those days. The music got me through those tough times when I felt really misunderstood and lost. I think this is a large part as to why I was drawn to this profession once I learned more about it – it was all the things that I had done for myself that I hadn’t even realized was therapeutic at the time.
Unfortunately, not everyone is equipped with the musical skill and knowledge I had at that age, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from music. As a music therapist, my ultimate goal is to help others use music as a healing process in whatever way works best for them.
How did you come to be a music therapist?