After getting a card in the mail today from some ex-students of mine at the Maximum Security Prison in Golden Grove, some of whom are 'lifers', I got to thinking...
I like to tell people I chose Music Therapy because I've always wanted to "change lives". Now, while this may be true, this can't be completely accurate, considering the nature of the field. Coming from a background of a school steeped in the neurologic tradition, and obsessed with research advancement, I only grasped this concept a few months into my internship.
I started my internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, a hospital for some of the most acute psychiatric patients one would ever encounter. And I'm finishing up now at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, definitely "not working with children who come to get their tonsils out", as my supervisor so eloquently put it.
What I have learnt is that we don't always get to change lives, per say. Because sometimes, people may not need or want us to. Sometimes, it's impossible to change their situations. Consider a person with schizophrenia, in active psychosis....or a 3 year old with a failed bowel transplant.....or a man serving 35 years imprisonment, with no education or employable skills. Now, music therapy does a great deal of healing, but can I really, honestly, change these people's lives....with a GUITAR?
The answer, quite simply, is an ego-crushing, resounding, "NO".
The good news is though, that that does not have to be my aim. Sometimes, improving someone's quality of life is all I can do. Do not, of course, take this as me saying that this is not a formidable aim. As a matter of fact, if one believes in humanity, as I do, one believes that improving quality of life for someone whose life can't be changed...is, in fact, changing his/her life.
All this to say that, LIFE HAPPENS. It happens to all of us. No one has a perfect life. It's okay to not be able to 'save' all of our patients/clients. It's okay. Because sometimes, when someone's situation can't be changed, or even helped.......a music therapist can come in, and TOUCH their life.
"To A Wonderful Lady,
May God bless you with a heart that's light
A faith that's beautiful and bright,
good health, good friends to see you through,
A road that's always straight and true
and blue skies always fair above you...
today, and evermore, God love you!
For all the thoughtful things you say,
the helpful things you do,
For all the warm goodheartedness so typical of you,
For all the kindness you have shown to others day by day,
God bless you....and God love you in a very special way!!"
- Golden Grove Maximum Security Prison Band, 2012