By Erinn Williams, LCPC
My initial entrance into the world of mental health treatment was as a Board Certified Music Therapist. I worked on an inpatient psychiatric unit in a hospital and my role was to implement a music intervention to help patients achieve their goals. For example, if the goal was to process the experience of depression we might write a song together about day to day life with mental illness.
Being a music therapist pushed me to be creative and to take risks in my work. Some of my favorite music therapy interventions were often process-heavy such as song writing and lyrics discussions. I was always surprised that I loved musical improvisation as much as I did. In these improv groups I would lay out an array of instruments in the percussion family. I would start a beat and invite the group members to join.
While I loved this portion of my job, I can remember the anxiety I felt as I rolled my cart of instruments into the group room. The variety of reactions I received were vast: curious facial expressions, confused scowls, the clearly eager folks, sometimes dread, and at times outright anger. Some patients would say “Cool!” while others said “No, I can’t play music.” After these groups I would always walk away with my own surprise that I was able to get even the most willful patient to join in. Almost a feeling of look what I just got away with.
Eventually I moved away from music therapy and got my masters in Mental Health Counseling, and while I don’t often use music therapy interventions in my counseling work now, I do try to keep the same mentality I had in those improv groups. That idea of let’s just see what I can do here or simply put: let’s just see.
This attitude is so helpful in combatting limiting beliefs around our goals, both professionally and personally. When I begin to think “I can’t do that” or “That won’t work,” I always come back to that saying “Well, let’s just see.”
When I’m problem solving with clients, I sometimes hear about why something won’t be effective or just won’t work at all. I’ll hear “I’m not going to talk to him because he won’t listen,” or “I know I’m not going to get the job, so why would I apply?” If we leave it there, nothing changes. If we treat those beliefs with the spirit of experimentation, we may surprise ourselves.
Sometimes when I am dealing with my own fear and anxiety I think back to the times I would roll in with my instruments to bewildered expressions. I think to myself, if I could get people who looked like they wanted to hurt me if I suggested that they join to end the session with a drum solo, then a lot is possible. Let’s just see what happens when we stop making excuses for why we shouldn’t try and start experimenting instead.