Guest Work – Erin Breedlove – A Student Perspective

As part of an effort to include multiple perspectives on Music Therapy Source, I have invited a few individuals to write guest articles.  This is the first.  You may see more of these soon!  And, in other site news, we will be announcing an exciting new program for students and interns which will launch in mid-March.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it!

Erin Breedlove is a music therapy student who also hosts a successful blog, Empower People Change Lives.  She has quite an interesting bio, but I will let you check that out on her website.  Her article offers a unique perspective, not just as a student, but as someone who understands the frustrations and limitations of a physical disability.  Erin reminds us that even though we may be in the more authoritative role of the therapist, there are still plenty of opportunities for learning and self-improvement, as well as for developing greater empathy for our clients.  We look forward to hearing more from Erin!



By Erin Breedlove

As a music therapy student with the challenges of physical limitations, I often find that when observing or leading sessions with any population, I quietly nod into the client role. Facilitating therapy for any client turns to learning and developmental experiences for myself as well as for those I serve. As I walk around in a parade-like circle with my clients who are middle-aged, I understand. I understand that music has the power to influence and to affect an entire room, an entire populace, and an entire condition. Through Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ lively ditty known as “Mexico,” the parade becomes enthusiastic. The hearty tune of the trombone leads to flailing arms and impersonations of a trombonist. Walking around the circle, I realize that by extending my arms along with my excited clients, I am increasing my range of motion and fine-tuning the gross motor skills that have been attained through learning to walk at the age of five-and-a-half. Often, I find myself taken aback by the work that I have done for my own development as I have embarked on my journey to become a music therapist.

In planning session activities, I have learned to evaluate each goal and skill as a separate entity. For example, a hypothetical client must learn to tie his shoes. Thus, the skill is broken down into smaller activities to ensure that the task is completed with accuracy. While planning a regimen of activities so that my client understands how to tie his shoe with success, I remember. I remember the skills that took a series of steps to learn. I can envision my therapists telling me, almost by rote, that everything happens as a step-by-step process. The twenty-year old statement lingers in the back of my mind as the fire is fueled. My client will tie his shoes. Step one. Grasp the two pieces of the string in each hand. As he spreads his fingers to run the laces through, I realize that my role has changed.  Shifting to use my own hands to show him how to “attach” the laces to his fingers by weaving the laces through them, he understands my connections with his difficulties. Step one is then complete, and we embark on step two. Crossing the right side over the left. In this instance, I begin to sing, “You cross ‘em, you cross ‘em. Cross to make an ‘X’.” Finally, it clicks. Crossing to make an “X” was what triggered brain activity, which was yet another commonality that I would find with this client.  Next, we must tuck one of the strings underneath the bottom of the “X” that was created, and so forth. With time, the client ties his shoes. With steps. With bits and pieces.

In my coursework, there have been a few modifications that have caused me to develop the ability to empathize with a client in the way that he/she makes music. Until recently, I was quick to believe that I could play the guitar with minimal assistance. Becoming frustrated with the group setting in which the guitar class was taught, I was determined to find that perfect aid that would assist me with the strumming that is solely right handed. Stumbling upon  A Day’s Work Music Education and the Pick Assist, excitement quickly set in, and I was eager to order the device.  After several failed attempts to make the guitar work for me, I resorted to becoming proficient on the Suzuki Qchord. Though I wasn’t enthusiastic regarding the decision, I knew that the stress induced by learning the guitar was unhealthy. And one semester just isn’t enough to learn everything necessary to be effective with the guitar in music therapy – not to mention learning adaptations.

Through the experience, it was difficult to divert my thought process from the fact that our clients experience frustrations with each and every session we conduct. Though we are told to be open with our emotions and excitements toward clients, they become frustrated with their deficits. Imagine. You see someone sitting directly in front of you able to walk, talk, and play an instrument with ease. You, as the client, however, suffered a brain injury, leaving you unable to walk, talk, and play an instrument with ease. Despite the fact that I am able to walk and talk, I understand. I understand that a struggle, for a young adult with extra challenges surrounded by a role model, is a tough reality to face, and easing the pain of those struggles in the form of music therapy is one of my greatest joys as a future music therapist.

Weeks later, however, I discovered Wade at Time for Music. Wade has developed an adaptive tuning program, and with ease, I will have the ability to play my guitar midterm selections on guitar on March 10. Shortly, the tuning will come available in book and DVD format, so be on the lookout for that. As a therapist who sometimes inadvertently falls into a client role, I have come to have a greater, deeper understanding of networking in the field of music therapy and that camaraderie is an invaluable tool when in a time of need.

Music therapy, as I’m certain it has for most of you, has shown me that there is power in music that surpasses human comprehension and that brings people together to meet a need!


One Comment

  • Erin:

    Great to hear more about your burgeoning guitar skills.

    And how you were able to relate to the client with the whole X thing.

    Frustration is such a big thing.

    Beverley Eley emphasises it with David Helfgott (well-known Australian pianist) and his not being able to tell the notes from each other at first.

    Amanda Baggs of Ballastexistenz fame has written about how she and others go into the Cute Little Client mode.

    There are deficits which can be reframes and ones that can’t.