Using the Music Therapy Observation Form as a way to process sessions

Roia Rafieyan, MA, MT-BC

Being a new clinician can be overwhelming. Faced with clients who may not respond in expected ways, it’s easy to get into a frustrating pattern of trying many different activities and interventions without success. Originally designed for practicum students, the Music Therapy Observation Form offers a way to step back and think through sessions. By paying attention to the process in music therapy instead of the product we provide our clients the empathy and emotional space they may need to do the difficult work of therapy. Ultimately, this approach frees us to be more authentic and present in our work.

Being a new clinician can be overwhelming. There is a lot of information to be taken in during a music therapy session, and, without a lot of experience, it’s difficult to know which things to pay attention to and when. Faced with clients, who may not respond in expected ways, the tendency is to focus on behaviors and searching for the perfect activities to address those behaviors. It’s easy to get into a frustrating pattern of trying different interventions, hoping for a magic formula that will make things happen as it seems they ought, without a lot of success.

The Music Therapy Observation Form was originally designed as a way for practicum students to learn how to observe and think about what they see in sessions. New as well as experienced clinicians may also find it to be of use. It offers a way to step back and think through difficult sessions and to try and find better ways to understand challenging clients.

Participants will be invited to bring a particular client or group to mind as we go through the form together looking deeply and with curiosity at the people they are supporting. Although this approach sometimes places therapists in a position of not knowing “the answer,” by paying attention to the process in music therapy instead of the product, we provide our clients with the empathy and emotional space they may need to do the difficult work of therapy. It is also an approach that respects clients’ ability to make decisions regarding what they feel needs changing (or not) rather than putting the music therapist in the position of always being right and in control.

  1. Participants will be able to differentiate between process and product-oriented music therapy approaches.
  2. Participants will identify elements to focus on when observing music therapy sessions.
  3. Participants will be able to bring the various observed elements together in order to formulate an interpretation of group/individual music therapy participant(s).

Roia has spent the last 29 years or so as a music therapist – in collaboration with folks who don’t use speech to communicate – learning, making mistakes, and growing from her various experiences as a clinician, teacher, clinical supervisor, direct support worker, student and musician. Her current obsession is arts-based research.

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