Getting Out to Get Back In
Erin Lunde , MT-BC
I have often heard people who become therapists are in need of therapy themselves . I imagine this is true , but only because we could all use therapy in our lives from time to time . In my last few years as a music therapist , I have had several shifts in identity , all of them culminating in a single , simple realization : I need out . This is to say that I have learned a great deal about myself in my work as a therapist and what I have learned is I can no longer do this . At least , not now , and not in the way I have been .
In late March , I was working with an individual whom I ' ve seen for years . This session was situated in the middle of my very busiest client-facing days , which happened to be toward the end of a week in which my husband was away on business and I was the single parent to my two very young children .
I have had , what I now consider , " pre-panic breathing " before . These short and shallow exhalations , countered by sharp and somewhat gaspy inhalations , started very soon after I began my session . My client sat down in front of me and stuck his face within inches of mine to say , " Hi , Erin ," and I heard a voice ( one of the many ) in my head that said , " Space , space , get out of here !" I saw his face in mine , my body tightened up , and I seemed immediately drenched in sweat . At that point , the voices became uncontrollable : " What is happening ? Get out of here . I don ' t feel good . Get out of here . I have to stay . I have to stick it out . I ' m supposed to be doing this . I hate this . What am I even doing here ? What is the point ? Get out . I want everybody to get away from me ." The voices were loud . My client happily continued singing , moving to the music and playing a drum . I hoped he had no idea of my inner turmoil .
After a few minutes I could no longer focus on him , nor for that matter , on much at all . My vision became foggy and I stared at a point on the floor . I noticed my hands hurt , especially my pinky and ring fingers . I felt a hot burning in the back of my neck . I wanted so badly to leave that space , but I had become planted .
This client loves to relax . Most days , I play guitar and sing as a wind-down experience . This was an unordinary day , and I switched to our relaxation time early on in the session . I narrated to myself the steps involved in reaching for my speakers , clicking on the music I wanted , and setting it up on the table . I talked myself through the motions of finding , holding , and tilting an ocean drum , so as to use it as a calming tool as well as an anchor for myself . I was no longer able to speak , much less sing . I clutched the ocean drum , and my client lay down . My mind was filled with a cacophony of words and phrases , like " failure ," " get out of here ," " you ' re failing him " " you don ' t know what you ' re doing " and " what are you doing , really ?"
I managed to end the session with as much grace as possible . My client , who did not seem phased , said his goodbye , and slowly ambled up the stairs . I spent a few moments trying to find my breath , but I realized I needed to get myself out of the house as soon as I could . I talked myself through the steps of collecting and packing my instruments . I zipped my guitar into its case and stood up on my numb feet . Somehow , I got myself up the stairs , into my shoes , and out the door , with a perfunctory " goodbye " to my client ’ s mother . Luckily , she seemed preoccupied with whatever household chore she was doing and didn ' t seem to notice anything out of sorts . With that , I drove , carefully , a few streets away , parked , and called the on-call clinician in my therapist ’ s practice . She helped me breathe through what was to become the first of a string of panic attacks .
I am fortunate to have a wonderful clinical supervisor with whom I did a lot of processing of this day , both verbally and musically . Unfortunately , this experience occurred a few more times with varying levels of severity although , thankfully , never again with the same client . I realized this client wasn ' t the cause of the anxiety . I had the same prepanic breathing episodes leading up to music therapy groups as well . I ’ d sweat through my shirt during some sessions . I have been receiving therapy , in addition to clinical supervision , and I ’ ve done my very best to keep my anxieties at bay while I ' m facing clients . I also determined there was nothing medically wrong . That is to say , there was nothing physical happening outside my everyday stressors and the all-encompassing identity crisis , gripping , with surprising dexterity , the nerves of my fingers and the rhythm of my breath .
I mentioned earlier that I ’ m a mother to two very young children . One will be three years old soon , and the other will reach her first birthday in the same month . My
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