Healing Shakers

Last week, I experienced one of the most beautiful sessions in terms of energy sharing and shifting; I want to share the (unplanned) interventions that were used in the session.

I had a variety of interventions prepared for my 5/6-year-old (all male) group. I’ve seen them twice prior, and know that they respond really well to movement, instrument playing, and silly songs. My goal with the group was to continue increasing group cohesion and develop those ever-needed social skills. I work with each child individually as well, and keep their individual goals in the back of my mind during sessions. Some of the children need some behavioral modification, and all of them are actively seeking safe ways to tell their story and express themselves. They are all extremely energetic and goofy, and I had yet to see them do anything much below surface level energy or emotion work.

As it goes, I had to trash my entire plan when the two clients came in. They were both in extremely subdued and vulnerable spaces. They each shared something that had happened that day that had made them cry; apparently they had already talked about it together before coming in, and were encouraging the other to speak freely about crying. Because they are still learning to not interrupt each other, I use an egg shaker as the ‘magical speaking instrument.’ Whoever is holding the instrument can share, and to obtain the instrument, you have to raise your hand. Even while they were sharing and supporting each other, I had them use the shaker. When they were done sharing, they stared at me with these incredibly sad and vulnerable eyes. We of course processed some of the things they had talked about, but I could tell that they needed something extra. I gave each child two egg shakers, and prompted them to imagine that these were ‘healing shakers.’ The shakes were going to travel up our arms and make our scrapes stop hurting, travel to our chests and heads and body and everything else that hurt, and help it go away. The boys, who usually hate everything ‘cheesy,’ immediately grabbed onto the idea. I played guitar while they gently shook their instruments. We moved through different parts of our bodies that needed to heal, and eventually started to speed up our instruments to help us ‘feel better.’ We played until they started to relax, and then we played until they started to smile.

I then proceeded with a few of the interventions that I know they like, but significantly more subdued than usual.

Hot Potato: Using only one egg shaker, the clients face each other and toss the egg shaker back and forth while I played guitar. When the guitar stopped, whoever was holding the instrument had to answer a question that I asked. The clients really enjoy the actual tossing and catch part, so we spend a lot more time doing that than answering questions.
Credit: Arianna

Freeze: I had the clients pick an instrument each, as well as choose an instrument for me to play. Each of us took turns being the ‘leader.’ The leader is in charge of yelling “Go!” and “Stop!” or “Freeze!” During the ‘go’ portion, we ran around the room (safely) playing our instruments in any way we wanted. We of course had to stop when the leader told us to. This always results in raucous laughter, because someone inevitably starts yelling ‘gostopgostopgostopgo.’
Credit: Arianna 😉

Story Time w/ Instruments: This group has really started to enjoy assigning instruments to characters in books and playing them when the character is mentioned. Last week we used Goldilocks and the Three Bears, which was a really easy way to teach the concept of character/instrument associations. I had not planned to do this again, but the clients specifically requested the intervention. I used a book that I’ve used a lot recently for discussing anger, The Grouchies. We flipped through the book to find the characters (the boy, the sister, the mom, and the dad), and I let them pick one instrument per character. While I read the book, I simply left space after each mention of a character for the clients to play the appropriate instrument.

I had a few more active interventions planned, but the clients just weren’t in that space. I instead moved them over to my relaxation corner, which is complete with bean bag chairs and dim lighting. I attempted, for the first time in this setting, some guided imagery while playing meterless guitar. Because both clients had mentioned that physical pain had made them cry that day, I used a script from The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids: Help for Children to Cope with Stress, Anxiety, and Transition that is geared specifically towards pain. I had low expectations for the experience; both boys are very energetic and have a hard time sitting still. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the boys began answering the question prompts (What color do you see?). Both boys visibly relaxed and seemed to respond well to the script. And with that final shift in energy, we ended our session.

I’ve experienced some deep energy shifts in sessions, but never with clients so young. These clients were at the age where they are starting to let go of their magical thinking, but might try ‘healing shakers’ if you spin it just the right way, and they’re in just the right space. I know that the only thing I can expect is to be surprised, especially as a new professional. It was such a good reminder that I can’t ever expect my clients to act or respond a certain way, even if I’ve known them for a few months.



School – Week 1

So, it’s about 3 or 4 weeks into the school year (what?!), but I wanted to go back and reflect on the interventions and activities I’ve used so far.

I work in a school for children with emotional/behavioral disorders who essentially have difficulty in a regular mainstream classroom. I go room to room and bring my supplies. Many of the children have a very negative association with the word “therapy,” so some of the things I will share on here are a mixture of educational and therapeutic materials. Most can likely be adapted to suit therapeutic needs, and I will definitely share some of my own goal areas, but I wanted to mention that so help alleviate possible confusion.

ANYWHO! Here we go:

For the first week of school (or any first session in general), my main focus, of course, was building rapport! I found some activities online that I will link below that encouraged socialization and allowed me to get to know the students’ and their interests.

“Hot Potato” question ball: That’s how I worded it for my own sake in session plans. It’s super easy — I brought in a small to medium sized ball I purchased at the dollar store and had the kids throw it around to one another. When I paused the music, I asked whoever was holding the ball a question. I was originally going to write the questions on the ball and whatever their thumb landed on or was closest to would be the question they answered, but I wanted to be able to adapt this for younger classes who might have difficulty reading, so I just kept my own list of questions and read them out loud. Initially these questions were based on their music tastes (name 3 artists/bands you like, if you could see anyone in concert who would it be, etc.), but later I branched out and asked fun questions like “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” (kids loved this question, and I usually let everyone in the class answer it – not just the person holding the ball) and “what is your favorite food?” This was a fun activity that got the kids interacting with each other and me in a positive way. It went over well in all my classes.
Credit: This is a common icebreaker activity using general get to know you questions — I just added my own musical spin on it.

Rumble If: I like to use this with younger classes, because they essentially just get to make noise with instruments. I usually start off by asking for everyone to give me a “rumble” on their instruments, and I explain what that means. Then I’ll call out different things such as, “Rumble if you’re wearing blue,” “Rumble if you like pizza,” “Rumble if your favorite color is red.” It’s a good socialization activity because I usually point out similarities (“Ooh, look, your friend likes pizza too!”) and I acknowledge that it is okay not to rumble for something because we all have different likes/dislikes. After a little while, I let the kids each take turns offering a “Rumble if.” Again, this allows me to develop relationships with the kids through a fun activity.
Credit: To be honest, I’m not sure if I made this one up on my own or found it somewhere online, so if anyone comes across this somewhere, please let me know and I’ll add a link here!

Paper airplane name game: I also tried a name game with a few of my older classes, but they weren’t as into it. I had everyone write two questions on a piece of paper — one related to music, and one could just be general. Then they folded their paper into a paper airplane and threw them around the room for about a minute or two. Then they were supposed to pick up a random one and answer the questions. Perhaps I didn’t present this in the best way, but my particular kids weren’t as interested. The idea of getting to throw paper airplanes was kinda cool for them though.
Credit: click here

Person Scavenger Hunt: I found this neat musical scavenger hunt on Pinterest (click here), and I had some of my classes complete it. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but basically you have the students fill in their answers, and then roam about the room trying to find people with the same answers as them. Again, another great positive socialization activity, and it gives me something tangible to walk away with that has their preferences on it.

I’ll hopefully catch up on the rest of the weeks of school pretty soon!

– Arianna (:

Meet Stephenie!

Helloooo! I’m Stephenie. I am in the process of completing my Master’s in Music Therapy at Ohio University (from afar). My Bachelor’s was in Music Theory from the University of North Texas, so I have a unique perspective as a someone who’s experienced the graduate equivalency life. Like Arianna, I completed my internship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (May 2016). After internship, I took a job in Atlantic City, where I work with children ages 3-17 who have witnessed domestic violence. This means that I have clients with a wide variety of diagnoses, ranging from ADHD to depression and anxiety. While I am pretty new to the concept of music therapy blogging, I am, however, obsessed with research. I am always consulting JMT, Perspectives, and the latest Jessica Kingsley publications for ideas and themes that birth session “seedlings.” I am pretty isolated from my music therapy colleagues/supervisors/friends.  This blog is, for me, a way to stay connected with the music therapy community, receive feedback on ideas, and share my experiences as a new professional working with a population that isn’t highlighted too much in the MT research.

Extra fun facts: I’m active in the Winterguard International (WGI) and Drum Corps International (DCI) community, and teach drumline on weekends. I’m also a part of the Philadelphia Eagles drumline!  I like coffee-shop vibes, vegan tacos, and mixing clothing patterns. Also, I use art instead of music for my own self-care.

I’m so excited to contribute to the growth of our community!




Meet Arianna!

Hiya! My name is Arianna. I graduated from Elizabethtown College in 2015 and completed my internship with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in March of 2016. Since passing my board certification exam in April, I have been working as a music therapist in the Pittsburgh area with children with a variety of diagnoses. Our primary population served is children with autism, but many of our clients have other developmental disabilities and/or mental health diagnoses as well. I also serve children in a school setting with emotional/behavioral disorders. I feel so fortunate to be in a city that I love doing the work that I love! Throughout my clinical training, I’ve done a LOT of searching on the internet to help spark my session planning process. I’m very familiar with many of the popular music therapy blogs, pins on Pinterest, and things of that nature. With this blog I hope to inspire people like me with new ideas to use in their work. In our internship, Stephenie and I always called them “seedlings.” Sometimes all you need is a seedling, or a basic idea, that you can grow into a wonderful and effective intervention!

A little more about me: I love getting outside and being active, buuuuuut then again I also appreciate a good Netflix-in-bed day. As you might guess, I try to play music in my spare time as well. My music taste has been described as “coffeehouse-y.” I love artists like Ed Sheeran, John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Andy Grammer, The Script, and Gavin Degraw. I also looove country music, and I do enjoy pop music, too. I like to read when I can find the time, and I enjoy a good workout sesh. I love cheesy jokes, tacos, and spending time at the beach.

Looking forward to sharing what I can with you all!