But does it really?
I recently sat in on a music appreciation group run by an occupational therapy assistant as a consultant, on an in-patient mental health ward for women. A member of the group started out positively and beamed at everyone; "music makes you happy" extolling the power that it had to lift her mood and to make her feel good no matter how terrible she might have been feeling. Great. I mean, that's really great, no? Some in the room embraced her views with matched enthusiasm. One turned away from her and seemed to retreat inwards towards their own core. I wondered what some music might trigger for her?
When I was little my dad used to practice Bach's Preludes and Fugues on the piano that leaned against the other side of the wall to my bedroom. Now that he has been dead for some years this music brings feelings of such comfort and melancholy, all at once, like an embrace from someone you can't quite touch but whose presence you can almost feel. It doesn't just make me happy. It elicits a smorgasbord of emotions all at once, in turn making me need space and time to go into my own head to be able to process this deeply personal and subjective response.
Happiness and its pursuit has become big bucks for western society with self-help books, mindfulness apps, bigger, better, shinier appearances and assertion that these things contribute towards a happier self. Music can trigger all kinds of emotional and physiological reactions for people, happiness being just one in the myriad. Retailers play music specially chosen to be the optimum speed, volume and style to induce the consumer to spend more and stay longer. Some tube stations trialled piping in classical music to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour. This example demonstrates that one person's delight can be another person's punishment. At its most extreme, music is used in C.I.A. torture techniques.
Some will say that neither Morrisey or depression are joking matters and I agree. However, it helpfully illustrates the idea that music can make us feel something other than happy. Recently there was a suggestion in a Professional Standards Authority (PSA) consultation - Promoting Professionalism, Reforming Regulation (January 2018) - that some professions cease to be statutorily regulated. This made the various Arts Therapies professions alert to the possibility that we might be among these. It would not have been the first time that others might not have understood the importance of regulation of Arts Therapies, perhaps due to the thought that the arts are warm and fuzzy, creative and happy-making, and could do no harm. These suppositions exist in the minds of many and illustrate a lack of basic understanding for the arts, the arts therapies and for the differences between good practice and dangerous practice in therapy. Misuse or misunderstanding of the arts in a therapeutic setting can cause great harm. Music doesn't just make us happy. Far from it.
Later on in the group session I mentioned before, a piece of music had been chosen and was playing. Someone began to cry. The music was reminding them of something or someone. They didn't want it to be turned off. Another person leaned forward and held their hand as they cried. In reflection together afterwards the message - "music makes you happy" - had transitioned to "music is so powerful". It felt like an important shift for the group and speaks to the core of the matter I'm discussing. Music is powerful and can trigger or support the gamut of human emotional and physiological experiences. It isn't just about making us happy. "Music is part of being human" (Sacks, 2007).
Recent surveying of the music therapy profession in the UK detailed that 38.5% of those who responded had more than one employer, 34% had two or three and 4% had four or more (Carr, C et al 2017). I am one of the 4%. The mental load of the different hats we wear as music therapists can be weighty. A working week containing multiple roles becomes a balancing act with different settings, client groups, admin specifications and venues to consider and hold in mind.
With the aforementioned in mind, I wondered if it might be interesting to describe an 'average' working week of my own? I currently have six roles, four as a music therapist, one as a Trustee with the BAMT and one co-running Wind Chamber Music Weekends.
To focus in on the music therapy ones, I have;
I start with a half day in one venue. Once I arrive I unpack my instruments. I have managed to work out what I can carry in one journey from the car to the session room which includes a keyboard, guitar and wheeled box of small percussion, hand puppets (don't forget the monsters), plastic farm animals, silk scarves and a parachute (of course!). There is time to make handwritten clinical notes in client's case-files as I go along during the morning . Any other admin, meetings or report writing occur outside of this time.
I pack up and head off to my freelance session via the shops where I pick up my lunches for the week ahead. I find that buying ready made lunches on Monday helps to a) eat more healthily and b) remove some of the mental load of planning ahead.
When I arrive, I just have time to set up the room, hold the session, support the client in leaving at the end of the session which they struggle with, write handwritten clinical notes and pack up again before heading to the last session of the day. Any other reports or admin take place outside of the time I'm booked for.
At the last session I am always greeted at the school by a wonderful member of staff who rushes to hold doors open for me and my bulky load with a warm and welcoming smile. It is incredible what a powerful impact that has on me at the end of each Monday. I smile back and thank her profusely, go to the room, set up, hold the session and pack up again. Notes are written in the car this time as they are electronic. I could do them when I get home but I find that the quality of my note writing is better when they are written as soon after the session as is possible. Also, it means that when I get home and have put away the instruments and transferred the case-files from my locked work bag to the locked cabinet in my office, I don't have anything more to do and if I want/need to, I can put my feet up and unwind.
Tuesdays, Thursdays & Fridays
These are spent at ELFT in my NHS post. Here I hold 1:1 and group sessions in the adult learning disability service and group sessions in the recovery college. There are meetings, trainings, collaborations, research, managerial and clinical supervision, assessments and much, much more. Everything takes place in the working hours I'm employed for; note writing, reports, supervision and admin.
I used to think I had Wednesdays off, and I do sometimes, but in reality they are often the time I use to do the admin from the non-NHS posts, the supervision, the invoicing and the admin from these roles. I also try to fit in the BAMT trustee matters and admin for the music courses...
So there we have it. A fairly swift break down of my 'average' week. It all works out fairly well at the moment. Mondays are a well-crafted machine that work well if everything goes as planned but as soon as something goes slightly wrong, such as bad traffic, then the whole machine splutters and then breaks. Wednesdays are usually quite busy despite being labelled as a day off.
For me, tricks like buying my lunches on Mondays for the week ahead serve to lighten some of the mental load of having multiple roles. Placing barriers around roles and striving for clear definition of time is also essential.