Ethan Hawke

Music Therapists as Emotional Shamans

Fresh in my mind is a quote from Ethan Hawke that I shared in a recent blog post:

It doesn't come for free

To me, that means those of us who work in the creative arts, give of ourselves for the benefit of others. Sometimes we give so much that we forget to save anything for ourselves and our loved ones.

Now let me speak to part of the title of this post: shaman.

A word that is sometimes overused, much confused and a word that stirs passion in some about who is a shaman, who is not and the right to be called one. 

The term means different things to different people, but in simple terms, a shaman is one who has one foot in ordinary reality and one foot in non-ordinary reality. Spirit world, Afterlife, "The Other Side"...

The life of a shaman is one of service. Service to community. The shaman takes on the responsibility of going where most cannot in order to guide and serve the community...often at great personal cost.

Now consider the role of the music therapist. At times, we may offer our clients a compassionate ear, a shoulder to cry on, a sounding board for buried emotions. We laugh, and cry with those we serve. We co-create an emotional legacy for friends and families of our patients facing death. We help the combat veteran process anger, grief and survivor's guilt. We bear witness to the joy a parent feels as their autistic child emerges from their shell.

It seems to me that in the Information Age, we have access to an overwhelming amount of images and data from anywhere on this planet and beyond. People are losing their ability to effectively deal with their own emotions. So many turn to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food...anything to try to deal with the overload. People stuff their emotions, afraid to see what is really there. And why not? 

Things are scary as hell out there. Let me keep my tunnel vision on my Facebook status and my Candy Crush level and my Instagram followers and please, please don't make me look! 

We, as music therapists can act as emotional shamans for our patients/clients/communities. 

We can ride our sacred drums into that mysterious and scary world of emotions, with courage, and bring back the wisdom that lies there for those we serve. Music opens the door to some potentially uncomfortable things for our clients. But it opens the door gently. It offers a warm hand and says, "It's okay. You're not alone anymore."

I can't count the number of times I played one song for someone, and then the person started to talk. They would tell me their stories. They would tell me about their fears around their current health challenges. They would share their concern for their grandsons and granddaughters in the military. They would speak fondly of their recently passed life partner and how they used to go to all the dances. They began to process their emotions because music opened the door for them.

We are the facilitators of those experiences. You'd better be damn sure you are bringing your "A" game every day. That means taking care of your mind/body/spirit. Yes, the responsibility is THAT important.

We walk where others have forgotten how to. We offer a non-threatening way to peek around the corner at the emotions that lay unattended to. In a sense, the non-ordinary reality we walk in is simply the landscape of emotions. Fear has taken over the thinking of so many these days and the skills to deal with emotions are being replaced by mind numbing entertainment and poor quality food, that we gorge ourselves on in hopes of receiving adequate nutrition and medicating those emotions we've forgotten how to process.

The landscape of music therapy is changing my friends. This is not the profession E. Thayer Gaston wrote about. We need to become more. The world needs us to become more. We need to be healers, and peacemakers and revealers of core truths and...emotional shamans.

I wonder if the Holy Grail of masters level entry will even be sufficient as the landscape continues to change?

Work very hard. Your clients/patients/communities deserve no less.

But remember that it doesn't come for free. 

Take care of yourself, or you won't be taking care of anyone else.

It Didn't Come for Free

I just watched this video of Ethan Hawke talking about depression in the creative arts. He speaks about the work of Robin Williams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and River Phoenix. The phrase that Ethan says that really caught my attention is

It didn't come for free.

This phrase reminds me that as music therapists, we need to take care of ourselves. Another phrase I learned early in my career reminds us

If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else.

This rings true for anyone in a service profession. We choose this work because we want to help people. We can't do that if we're a mess on the inside. Eckhart Tolle says we need to take care of our inner space. We must pay attention to what is going on inside of us so things don't get out of control.

What we do as music therapists, it doesn't come for free. As I read once, "there is a price for greatness."

It doesn't come for free.

Take care of yourself, on every level.