I quietly loaded my instruments and gear into the delightfully large boot of my car early on Tuesday this week. Brushing out the sand from my relaxing, much needed summer break, appreciating again the wonderfully accommodating size of my station wagon's boot, I began to think about my year ahead. As I did so, I began to smile, celebrating how calm I felt in the face of my forthcoming schedule and commitments. There would be fewer places to go this year, a more focused case-list of people to see, and a glorious amount of therapeutic music to be made.
With looking forward comes reflecting back, and I began to think about my tiny red Peugeot hatchback I had when I first began my Masters and as I started out as a registered music therapist. Eager, ready to go, darting here and there going everywhere it could whenever it could. I started 2012 as a Master of Music Therapy Graduand - completed the Masters, awaiting my marks, but not yet graduated - with two contracts over two half days, and by the end of the year I had six contracts and a more than full week of work. (Putting it like that might make it sound easy, I can assure you hard work and dedication built that amount of contract work so quickly)....
My Peugeot, who I called Madeleine Amelie Matisse, was packed to the brim and hastened all over Auckland from Monday to Saturday. She took me musicking from young children with special needs, or diverse needs depending on your preference of terminology, to adults with neurological conditions singing in a choir, to older adults experiencing mental health in a hospital setting, to the homes of private clients, and then back to my home office where I often worked into the wee hours getting to grips with my workload, up-resourcing and emails. (Yes, emails has it's own distinct entity separate from workload. Emails is a workload within itself.) I was keen to get experience in a broad range of settings with many people because I had loved all of the work so far and wanted to work towards honing my strengths and finding my best fit - what I enjoyed the most, the work I connected the most with.
Madeleine blew a gasket, and so did my health, and in the process of recovery and all the kinks that went with that, I began building back up to full-time work. This of course and inevitably became too full once more, and so it was as I stood at my car boot that I smiled and congratulated myself for having taken a step back at the end of last year, re-evaluated my priorities, and made active choices that I know will enable better life-work balance. Life should come first, just like the importance of not putting the cart before the horse, or trying to drive a car with no engine, because my home and personal life is what drives me. The metaphors are endless - wheel balancing and alignment, optimum tyre pressure (not too high-pressure at work that it's overwhelming, but also not enough tyre-pressure that you don't get anywhere), ensuring you have enough of what you need and don't blow a gasket, fine-tuning your engine and what it needs to run at its best, recharging your batteries... you get the picture. It feels satisfying and I feel proud to have reached the point in my career where I have been able to handover work to another therapist, take a step back from roles, turn down contracts, and choose to focus on building my work within supportive teams, and within my boundaries, work that challenges me and which I enjoy. I welcome a year ahead which will focus on connecting with people living with dementia and in aged care, and across the lifespan seeking support with mental health. As I have written this, I worked out that last year I saw between roughly 95 - 176 clients each week, within 13 contracts in 8 locations working with and alongside the staff and other professionals in each place. Luckily I have a good memory for names! I turn to 2018 where I'll be working with between roughly 57 - 127 clients each week (it varies due to the open-group and one-off nature of some of my sessions), within 6 contracts in 9 locations and it feels good.
Just as my car boot has grown in the last eight years, so have I - as a therapist, as a practitioner, as a human being. My now Toyota Corolla station wagon, Jimmy, is a steady stead who journeys with me at my pace. He named himself with a number plate starting GMY, and just like Jimmy, I'm keeping things more simple. He is thankfully more reliable, just as I have come to rely more and trust in my skills and expertise as a therapist. I notice it even in the way my fingers find their way on the piano keys. At one point this week I was sitting at the piano with a client. All they could reach and physically manage to play was one key, intermittently, repeatedly. I saw their pitch, a Bb, and my fingers readily and immediately settled into the root key, creating a cacophony of sound enveloping from below and supporting, inviting, celebrating theirs. I felt a surge of joy and almost proud surprise as I looked down at my fingers and realised how readily I had been improvising to foster and nurture their continued play, and as I glanced over to their face I saw pure joy shining back at me. We could both play, and play more we will.
NZ Registered Music Therapist, co-creator, songbird, collaborator, advocate, lover-of-music.