Intro: Do I need to know about this before internship?
Music therapy is a helping profession. We work with populations that are vulnerable, and meeting our clients’ various needs can be taxing on us. As a music therapist in any setting, you will inevitably encounter clients who have experienced trauma and/or difficult life circumstances. This work can be incredibly rewarding, but helping professionals increasingly report stressful work environments, heavy caseloads, negativity from co-workers, and dwindling support/resources.
My first month of internship consisted of observing many sessions in the hospital setting. The most exciting aspect of this was serving those who had a clear, significant need- patients who had uncontrolled pain or severe anxiety, or a family dealing with the anticipated loss of a loved one, for example. I learned a lot from my practicum experiences, but all of sudden I was in the “real world,” and seeing how music therapy made an impact on these patients and their families affirmed my passion for this field. In the hospital, we may see a patient in their most vulnerable state, but that gives us the opportunity to see remarkable outcomes. It felt so rewarding to be helping others that the cost of helping took a while to catch up with me.
Gradually, my work started coming home with me. I couldn’t get a heart wrenching story that a patient had told me out of my mind. I began imagining my friends and family in the situations that patients were in: a stroke out of the blue, car accidents, learning of a stage IV cancer diagnosis. I sometimes dreaded going to see patients, and I was often drained at the end of the day. Some days are easier than others, but it has gotten much better. I have turned to my supervisors and peers for support, I re-worked my schedule with my internship director, and I spent time on my own researching topics such as secondary trauma and compassion fatigue.
Internship is a challenging time because you are actively building your capacity for working with others. The more time you spend doing the work, the more resilient you will become to the emotional toll it takes. Building capacity requires self-awareness to recognize your limits and when you need to seek out guidance or support. Overextending yourself too much during internship increases the likelihood that you will develop compassion fatigue or burnout (we’ll come back to these terms in Lesson 4).
What to Expect
The concepts of secondary trauma, grief, and compassion fatigue in the music therapy setting are relevant for all clinicians, regardless of the population/setting that you work with (although they will come up more frequently in some settings than others, i.e. mental health, medical, hospice). It is also necessary to be able to recognize these signs and symptoms in your colleagues. Many training programs do not provide much information about these topics, but severe burnout and compassion fatigue are consistently cited as driving factors that cause helping professionals to leave their field.
Goals of this module:
- Understand the symptoms of secondary trauma and vicarious trauma
- Complete a personal grief inventory and recognize how loss may affect you
- Recognize the signs of compassion fatigue
- Create an individualized “Emergency Preparedness Plan” for your career in music therapy (internship and beyond)