During my internship during graduate school, I worked at an adult rehab facility for men. Their major issue was drug and alcohol addiction, and many were recently released from prison. It was a fascinating population to work with, and the work was very rewarding. A few months into my internship, I was called into my supervisor’s office. He was taller than me, and had a crazy, grisly looking beard. He also had a very deep baritone voice.
One day he called me into his office. I felt the anxiety mounting. What had I done? I didn’t remember messing anything up. He had me sit down in a chair next to his desk. I felt like I was a little boy back in elementary school getting dressed down by the principal. He hadn’t said much when he grabbed a patient’s file folder, waved it a couple of times in the air, then HURLED it across the room. It hit the wall, papers flying everywhere. I was DEFINITELY scared at this point. I didn’t know if he had lost his mind or what, but then he calmly spoke:
Supervisor: David, where are you?
Me: Uh, at my internship site?
Supervisor: Do you see any university logos anywhere here?
As he’s picking up the patient file, he waves the face sheet in the air and I can see the patient’s name.
Supervisor: What do you want to do with this patient?
Me: Well, I, uh…I was going to…
Supervisor: Nooo…what do YOU want to do with this patient???
Me: I’m not sure I understand…
Supervisor: Do you see any university professors around here? I don’t. I want to know what YOU…what DAVID wants to do with this patient.
Me: I want to bring in my guitar and play music that the patient wants to hear while we talk about how to manage his problems.
Supervisor: So, why haven’t you done that yet?
There was a bit more to the conversation, but the message I got from him was loud and clear: If you get an idea of a way to help a patient, whether it was taught in a class or not, perhaps you should try it. Trust your instincts.
Mind you, music therapy modalities are an accepted treatment, but they weren’t taught in my program. One of the other things I have learned over the years is that not only is there more than one way to treat a patient, but also that people are not checklists. Their behaviors aren’t linear. If you go according to the linear checklist the patient may not feel as though you actually care about them and want to help them.
You may be wondering why I have a picture of a bicycle pump. This is, in fact, my bicycle pump that I have in my office. I don’t own a bicycle. So why to I have this? So I can have a young patient blow ping pong balls into the air, or launch a makeshift rocket down the hall, or spin lego wheels really fast, or show them what a fidget spinner can really do. The point is that as a therapist I believe it is my job to do as much as I can, and just about anything I can, to help meet up with that patient to help them. I’ll dream up the craziest idea if I think it’s related and can help.
The life takeaway here is that there’s not a lot of wrong answers in regards to how you help yourself. As long as it’s safe, legal, and isn’t going to hurt you financially, anything is acceptable. Sometimes people, and even some therapists, complicate things and how to solve a problem or fix something. Sometimes it’s the simple things that seem outside of the box. Or, as can often happen at my office, it’s a matter of playing with ping pong balls and a bicycle pump.
Have fun, and be well.