Therapy is not only about making yourself feel better. It is about discovering your strengths and creating change through a therapeutic relationship. We do not do therapy all by ourselves. We need a therapist to listen to us, to guide us, to encourage us, to challenge us, to make music/art/movement/conversation with us. This relationship is what makes therapy effective.
For me, building relationships with the kids that I work with is the most important part of my job as a therapist. There is no way that they will sing or participate or listen if they do not trust me. My favorite compliments from parents are the ones when they say their kid talks about me at home. One parent said I made their child’s “love list” as he listed all the people he loves. Another parent said that I am a rockstar at their house. Just this week, another parent sent me a video of a child singing along with his toy guitar while watching one of our school’s videos of me singing a Thanksgiving song. While it’s always nice to hear that a kid loves me and thinks I’m a rockstar, I love these compliments because it means that we have established the beginning of a meaningful therapeutic relationship. And together, we continue to build this relationship every day. This relationship between the therapist and the client is what makes therapy work.
The word “therapy” is constantly being thrown around casually, and this often detracts from the meaningful work therapists do, especially creative arts therapists. Anyone can draw or sing or dance right? And then they will feel better! Just like that! In this short but important article that I highly recommend reading, “Quick Take: Your Coloring Book is Not Your Therapist,” the author talks to several art therapy professors at Drexel University about why the new trend of coloring books marketed toward adults are mislabeled as “art therapy.” They point out several reasons for this error, but the main factor is the lack of a trained therapist, educated and certified in their field. Just as art therapy is not simply giving your client art materials to play with, music therapy is not simply singing fun songs or handing over a drum to your client to bang on. We therapists are highly trained and are constantly assessing our clients’ needs, creating new goals, and developing interventions to help them reach those goals, based on our clinical education and training. With our knowledge and expertise, we can help build a relationship with the client through music or art or dance, and that is how we help our clients change and grow.
So before you claim that listening to music by yourself or coloring a fancy coloring book is therapy, remember that while these are wonderful beneficial activities, they certainly do not replace the therapeutic relationship.