Our Grief: Disenfranchised Grief of the Therapist

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Image of music therapist Meghan McMillan

The grief of client loss is not often publicly discussed within music therapy. There are limited articles or publications focused on this topic, even though it is an aspect of professional practice that many, if not all, of us will experience. I believe there is value in naming this shared experience and examining how we can meaningfully engage with these losses. The content will include a variety of loss experiences including:

  • Unexpected deaths of clients (such as through sudden illness or suicide)
  • Expected death of clients (such as as clinicians in palliative or other medical settings)
  • Lack of closure due to sudden job loss (such as immediate terminations, or impacts of lockdowns with COVID-19)

The presentation will attempt to highlight how the grief culture within our socio-cultural locations impacts our ability to grieve. Participants will be asked to reflect on the expectations and assumptions of the impact of the therapist-client relationship within their communities. Participants will be asked to reflect on their own assumptions of how they “should” manage the loss of their clients, and how this aligns with any past experiences of client loss.

I believe that this topic is applicable to music therapists across the globe as death is a commonality for us all. The way we respond to death, the client-therapist relationship, and the role of the therapist in the community differs culturally and this can be helpful to acknowledge and share within our music therapy community. By acknowledging our professional grief we maintain our ability to be effective therapists and reduce the risk of burnout.

Learner Objectives

IV.A.10 Document music therapy termination and follow-up plans.

V.A.2 Integrate current research and literature in music therapy and related disciplines.

V.B.12 Monitor own mental and physical health, and seek support as needed to ensure professional effectiveness and competence

Presenter Biography

Meghan MacMillan is a music therapist currently working in residential hospice and bereavement support in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.