How many times have you heard “If you can’t take care of yourself, then you can’t take care of others.” A million times, right? This is so significant in my life that I even manage to take care of myself while facilitating sessions.
I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it yet, but my self-care practice has evolved tremendously in the past 12 years of my career. These suggestions come from my own experience and the experiences of some colleagues with whom I’ve spoken about the topic.
Self-care is the act of maintaining personal wellness (physically, emotionally, cognitively, spiritually, and socially) that allows one to function at his/her most optimal level during daily activities.
The American Music Therapy Assoc. Professional Competency 14.1 reads: “Recognize the impact of one’s own feeling, attitudes, and actions on the client and the therapy process” (AMTA 2009). I further believe that it is the responsibility of the therapist to refer the client to another professional if the therapist is not healthy enough to provide service.
In a conversation with Christine Stevens, she stated that “If you come home from work and you are exhausted, too tired to make dinner, too tired to exercise, then something is out of balance in your practice.” In my opinion, the therapist should feel an even exchange of energy. And it’s the therapist’s responsibility to regulate his/her own energy exchange during the day.
Here are 8 ethically-sound ways to take care of yourself during the day:
1. Check in with yourself. When you do a check in with your client(s) (e.g. hello song, drum greeting, first deep breaths), also check in with yourself silently. If you find you need a deep breath, then facilitate a few deep breaths for your client(s), too. Breathing in a drop of lavender can soften the heart and prepare you and your clients for the session. If your leg is stiff, then work in a gentle leg stretch in the session (if it flows with the rest of the session). Better yet, come to the session centered, grounded, and prepared. If need be, start the session late so that you can take a moment for yourself beforehand.
2. Watch your body position. When I first heard of the Floortime approach for treating kids with autism, my initial thought was “Oh the poor therapist will have to spend all sorts of uncomfortable time on the floor!” I learned more about the approach, and it is possible for the therapist/parent to be comfortable while engaging in this approach. Music therapist Cami Smith, MT-BC knows the importance of ergonomics from experience. From years of working on the floor with kids with special needs, Cami occasionally suffered from inflammation of one of the sacroiliac joints. Now Cami recommends using discs, wedges, and Panaway essential oil to support posture and muscles when working on the floor.
3. Notice how long you sit in the car. I ran into someone in the coffee shop the other day who told me of her chronic sciatica. She’s in great physical shape otherwise. She blames the sciatica on a decade or two of driving 400 miles per week for work. This made my ears perk up. At time in my career I also drove over 400 miles per week! Since then, I made it a professional goal to reduce those miles. Now I drive very little for work.
4. Notice the volume and usage of your voice. Do you ever have to yell over drums? Do you ever grumble your voice for effect? If you sing, how is your singing technique? If you are experiencing pain in your throat, then see an ENT doctor immediately to check for vocal nodes. Also consider using R.C. essential oil blend – When I have a coughing fit, 2 drops placed directly on my neck soothe my weary voice immediately.
5. Lighten the load of physical exertion. Decide whether it’s necessary to expend as much energy as you do. Tone it down and see what happens. Start conserving more energy than you exert during a session, and notice how you feel afterward. Also notice if your clients actually benefit from your exertion. In my experience, they more than often do not.
6. Lighten the load of emotional exertion. Go into the session simply as an observer. Give yourself an emotional break for a change during the session and don’t take on emotional burdens. Realize where and how you get inspiration from your work, and practice focusing attention on your inspiration. Consider placing a drop of White Angelica essential oil on your heart before the session begins. This will protect you from taking on emotions of your clients.
7. Take time for your own creative expression. You’re making music, improvising with clients, song-writing with clients, providing a healing space for clients, and more. Do this for yourself, too, in your own time or with friends.
8. Financial health is also part of self-care. Make sure you are getting paid an honorable salary for your services. Otherwise, burnout happens quickly! Nothing is worse than going into a session with resentment for not being able to afford the gas it takes to get there. Set an honorable rate, and make no apologies for it!
A blog post could be written on each one of these and expanded upon! But this is a great start. The general idea I have is that it is impossible to give your client the absolute best possible service if you (the service provider) are not well. What do you think?
Be well, feel good, and make music!
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