Allowing Clients to Wander

As business has been expanding and the academic year is well established, an issue that is initially hard for students to understand in a productivity-oriented society, is allowing clients to “wander” in therapy.  There have been times my students have referred to this as clients “being bored”.  My reply is:  “Perhaps, but this is a necessary part of the therapy process.”

Often, even our most well-behaved and compliant clients need to wander.  They have learned well to robotically do what they have been instructed to do. On the other hand, our “behavioral clients” have learned that to retain any of their uniqueness,  they must behave in a way contrary to what authority is asking or expecting.

Funding sources such as insurances are most interested in time limited data results which often can be different than actual progress.  Many professionals are then cornered into prioritizing time limited “data” results for payment purposes or job retention.

However, my experience has taught me that anything that lasts not only takes time but also takes a “whole person” perspective.  If a therapist is getting data results but not actual client life progress, then what is the client paying for?

There is sometimes a period in Individual Music Therapy after the excitement of all the new instruments wears off when no-one is telling, instructing or requiring the client to do anything.  What then does the client do? The compliant clients do not know what to do as they have only habitually done what they are robotically told.  The behavioral clients have no reason to resist an issue if they are not being pushed or pulled anywhere.  Again, what does the client do?

Of course endless wandering is not helpful but plateau wandering is.  Getting out of the routine of compliance for compliance’s sake gives an opportunity for our clients to be self expressive and be who they really are.  If one has never been given this opportunity, where and how does the client begin?  This where we see temporary wandering.

Who they are can be seen.  It is inside the person – in their facial expression, in their eye glance, in their stims, in their movements, no matter how subtle.  It is in what captures their attention. It is the therapist’s job to observe and then give musical structure to these observations.  As the therapist does this, the client will then begin to demonstrate who they are.  Each individual has been given their own strengths. It is the therapist’s job to help support and nurture these.  It is not a case of “the client only does it if he feels like it”.

As who they are emerges, through in their movement, vocalizations, or expression through instruments, the therapist remains attuned to the client by relating to, supporting, mirroring back and responding to every breath, the musical “relationship” begins.

Wandering is sometimes part of the client’s process.  It is not the therapist’s job to “try to get them to do something”.  It is the therapist’s job to enter into a relationship, support it and gently illicit all the client already has, giving musical structure to allow the individual to develop their individual strengths.  Sometimes with our “behavioral clients”, in their “behaviors” lies a strength. It is the therapist’s job not to “extinguish” the behaviors but to provide the atmosphere and motivation for the intrinsic and positive direction for these strengths.

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