Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Guest Post - Self-Care

Anyone who has ever flown on an airplane has heard the pre-flight safety schpeel: this is where the emergency exits are, in case of turbulence return to seats and put on your seat belts, no personal electronic devices until the plane reaches the cruising altitude. We're also told, in the case that the cabin pressure drops, oxygen masks will fall down from the panels above us. The flight staff reminds us that if/when this happens, to place this mask over our own faces before assisting those next to us.

During my final music therapy practicum experience as a student, my supervisor used this example to illustrate the importance of music therapists (as well as others in helping professions) taking care of ourselves in order to provide the best quality services to our clients. We spent some time during each of our supervision sessions discussing self-care and steps we were taking to build healthy mental, physical, and spiritual habits to effectively deal with stress and burnout. Up until this point, none of my supervisors had spent much time emphasizing self-care. Today, I find myself using the same metaphor of the oxygen mask with the students and interns with whom I work as a way to illustrate the importance of self-care in our profession.

When I think about my experiences with stress as a music therapist, I can generally categorize my stress into 2 distinct areas: external and internal. External stressors are those that one has little or no control over (for example: lack of funding/resources at your facility, layoffs/hours being cut, or unrealistic expectations from your supervisor), while internal stressors are generated inside of ourselves (for example: low self-esteem, taking on too much work, or vocal health problems due to lack of proper technique). While some of these stressors are unavoidable, burnout or extreme stress reactions which take a major toll on our health are preventable. The following are some basic wellness tips that I have found to be helpful in my clinical work at as a music therapist no matter which population I am working with:

1. Use common sense: We all know that there are certain habits that are just plain good for everybody, like eating well, exercising, drinking water, and getting adequate sleep. Along with these, there are a number of other "basic" habits that music therapists should strive to develop (many of which I am guilty of neglecting!) -- things like warming up our voices prior to sessions, or taking some sort of break each day eat/recharge our batteries, for example. Even something as simple as deep breathing for a few minutes can dramatically improve acute stress reactions when we are on the job. Sometimes it may seem difficult to make these seemingly little things a part of our daily routines when we're strapped for time between sessions and meetings, but they truly make all the difference when it comes to our wellness as practitioners.

2. Ask for help: Over time, I've learned that a lot of the major stress related to my job could have been prevented if I had asked someone for help. Several years ago, a co-worker accepted a position at another unit at our facility, and I was left to cover both of our caseloads while also supervising 2 interns and preparing for special holiday events. It was important to me that all the clients participating in music therapy prior to my co-workers move continued to receive services, my interns were getting the support that they needed, and that the upcoming events were planned...but I couldn't do it all alone. Luckily, my supervisor sensed that I needed her help to stay afloat until we could hire a new music therapist, and I finally realized that I couldn't do it all by myself.

Whether it is your family, friends, co-workers, supervisor, mentor, personal therapist, or other people in your PLN (see John's posts below for more info), find someone (or several someones) who you can ask for help when you feel the stress creeping on, and call on them when you need them.

3. Get back to your roots: I have a friend who worked for several years as a hospice music therapist and absolutely loved her job. She is an incredibly talented musician, proficient on voice, piano, guitar, and violin, and often performed with different groups or got together to jam with other musicians. After awhile, however, she found that she was no longer making music for herself as a recreational activity or hobby, simply because she was so mentally and physically exhausted from the demands of her job.

Before we were music therapists, we were musicians, and we mustn't lose sight of our deep-seeded passion for our craft. Making music for yourself - whether you're involved with performing ensembles, take lessons, or simply play around for fun at home - is one of the most nuturing and loving things you can do for yourself as a music therapist.

Ultimately, music therapists have the tools to take care of ourselves, but sometimes we can all use a reminder that taking care of ourselves should be a priority -- doing so assists us in continuing to provide excellent services to our clients and ensures a happy, healthy, and long career.

Please, do post your tips and suggestions for wellness and stress management in the comments section!

-- Carolyn Dachinger, MT-BC
Boca Raton, FL

1 comment:

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