March 1st is “Self-Injury Awareness Day.” Self-injury, as well as mental health in general, is a highly stigmatized, and at times misunderstood diagnosis. Thus, we wanted to take this month of March, as the winter doldrums recede and we start to look towards spring, to focus on mental health.
Self-Injury will be our main theme, but we will abstract that “injury” to burnout—methods to keep ourselves healthy as therapists—and we will also cover some tougher subjects.
For this monthly interview, I spoke with one of my best friends and colleague, Samantha Sinai, MT-BC.
Samantha is a board certified music therapist who double majored in music therapy and cello performance at Baldwin-Wallace College (before it became a university). She completed her internship at Whidbey General Hospital under the supervision of Dr. Barbara Dunn. There, Sam worked in the ICU, with Oncology, Rehabilitation, the Home, Health, & Hospice program, and on the General Medical Surgical floor. After receiving her board certification, Sam worked in Akron, OH with veterans recovering from substance abuse/PTSD in a rehabilitation setting. She also worked with children with DD in a home setting focusing on both music therapy and adapted music lessons.
Currently, Samantha has applied for a grant to work with The University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics within their palliative care facility and integrative medicine. She is currently waiting to hear back as to whether she will receive funding! Samantha has a collaborative project with a local yoga teacher through a method called, “Tension Trauma Release,” or TRE. This will bring aspects of yoga and music therapy together, specifically for trauma patients.
First, I spoke with Samantha about her collaborations. “Collaborating with the hospital has been a lot [of] networking. […] The biggest thing is meeting people, telling them who I am, finding out what they do, and seeing how they might be willing to help my program, and how my program may help them. It’s really amazing, as I continue to put myself out there and meet people, people are really willing to help me. So, I’ve gained this network, and I couldn’t have done it without that.” Samantha has been successful in finding a symbiotic relationship within the hospital, where they are enthusiastic of the potential of her work as a music therapist.
Samantha’s work to bring music therapy into the yoga studio is a collaboration that isn’t as mainstream. Sam elucidates, “We’re both looking into each other’s disciplines. [. . .] I’m learning a lot about yoga and how that can be healing, and hopefully she’s learning more about music therapy. It’s not always easy coming from different angles—we have to compromise. Sometimes, [we must] sacrifice a little bit more than we might want to, in order to make it work.”
Sam has had a diverse experience with populations as well as with facilities in her time as a board certified music therapist. In order to learn more about her process I asked, “How do you see music within the session?” to which she laughed! “Yeah,” she said. “And you also had the question, ‘How do you use [music] within the session?’ I’ve decided to put those two together.” Fair enough!
Samantha further explains, “At first, I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, there are so many different ways that I see it and I use it!’ But I ended up being able to come up with a way to bring it all together: I think music—or at least I see it and use it—as a way to shift and/or direct energy for a therapeutic purpose.” Which is a beautiful way to explain how to approach our mode of therapy.
We then turned our conversation to the subject of our monthly theme. I asked Samantha, “Have you had any experiences with injury as a musician?” To which she replied, “Yes.” Samantha explained to me that she experienced pain while playing her cello. “It’s affected my psyche, and it was really hard being a performance major, to have pain while playing.” Samantha reached out to many doctors and alternative healers to learn more about her body. “I opened up a lot. That was really helpful.”
Not only did Samantha search for answers for herself from medical professionals, she also started a health and wellness organization on campus called, The Circle. Samantha explains, “I decided it was something that needed to be addressed within the (Baldwin-Wallace) conservatory in general because a lot of people were having issues with either physical injury or just the self-care aspect. Which, I did too. I did have trouble with that—being so busy in school and neglecting to take care of myself. And so I started an organization to explore those questions of how to take care of yourself. […] It was really nice to have some community around those questions.”
It can be difficult at times, being a therapist, to fully understand the other side of the therapeutic relationship. For example, a young music therapist who is treating clients with cancer has an idea as to what methods or techniques can be used. But it can be difficult to fully comprehend what journey it is that a client goes through. I asked Samantha, since she has had an experience with the struggle, if her experience has made her more compassionate towards clients as she works with them? She responded with a laden, “Yeah, [I’m] definitely more compassionate and empathetic.”
Samantha further elucidated, “Also, I feel more compassionate towards my colleagues, I think? Because this has helped me realize that everyone has something that is a struggle. There is no one who doesn’t struggle, you know? But yes, going into a session with someone, I know that they are struggling—even if they don’t seem like it. Having that respect for that, since I went through it.” It is so important to view clients, and each other as whole people, with strengths, weaknesses, and burdens. As difficult as that may seem.
Samantha further informed me that, “Another thing that I didn’t expect—that has helped me is since I have sought out all these therapies for myself—I feel like I know about these things and can work better collaboratively. I have experienced yoga and what that has done for me and that’s what has drawn me towards integrative medicine. So, it has shaped the direction that I want to go.” Which is a transformative statement. From the struggle that Sam had with her pain, she has found what direction she wants to pursue as a board certified professional.
My last question for Samantha was, “How have you witnessed injury as a music therapist, and how do you approach healing?” Sam acknowledged through her time as a music therapy intern and her current work, she has seen a lot of people in pain, as well as close to the end of their life. “I have seen people—grown men—who don’t feel like they are worth much,” Sam stated. “I think I’ve seen quite a lot of suffering, and I have to approach it as a facilitator. I don’t think of myself as a healer, as hard as it is to admit. Because I know from my own experience that it has to come from within. So, I approach it as, ‘I have these tools that I know, and I have this musical gift that I would love to give to you.’ Hopefully these people will take what they need.”
I agree with Samantha, treatment is a two way street. That as the therapist one must work hard, but the client has to work hard, too. As the therapist, it is our job to provide the client with keys, so that they can open the door.
Sam shared with us with her top 5 songs in relation to our theme!
I am Willing – Holly Near
Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls
Bramble in the Rose – Barbara Keith
Mi Shebeirach – Debbie Friedman
Thankful for Life – Sam Sinai
And I have added another 5 songs that continue on our theme:
You’ll Be Okay – Great Big World
Stairwell – Julia Nunes
Half Crazy – Jukebox The Ghost
House of Gold – Twenty One Pilots
Night/Day – mae
Thank you, Samantha for sharing with us your journey as a music therapist, as well as some awesome songs! I look forward to exploring them this month! If you want to learn more about Sam, you may visit her website by clicking here! She has presented on music therapy in many settings, she also has other music resources available on her site.
Keep your eyes and your ears peeled tomorrow for Catherine’s Song of the Week post! 🙂
best wishes all,