Guest Post by Laura Al Bandar: The Use of Twitter – Part One

Making the decision

When I qualified and started to work as a Music Therapist I decided to take the plunge and join Twitter. This may not seem like a big deal to most people but it really felt like a huge decision. As a Music Therapist should I be using Twitter? And how can I do this in a way that is both professional and worthwhile? In order to answer these questions, I had to work out why I wanted to join Twitter and whether this had any relation to why I chose to be a Music Therapist, i.e. what are my personal and professional motivations? In general, I wanted to:

  • have a better understanding of the society in which my clients are influenced;

  • gain useful resources of information and insight;

  • promote the value of music therapy;

  • advocate for the needs of my clients;

  • make myself known in the profession and to make valuable contacts;

  • grasp opportunities to be engaged in issues that I am passionate about.

These to me all sound quite reasonable, although perhaps a little more profound than the realm of Twitter can really offer me, but I was concerned about how I could ensure that I did this ethically and maintain therapeutic boundaries (Ellie’s post on this is very helpful!). I was also worried that as a newly qualified therapist I may not have the experience, knowledge or credibility to attempt to represent the profession or to engage in such important issues at this level. I don’t even have a network base to start from, where would I even begin to build this?

However, I strongly believe that anything worth doing carries an element of risk, but it is how these risks are thought about and implemented that makes the difference. So I decided that as long as I spent enough time reflecting on my motivations and limitations I could use Twitter responsibly and effectively.

So here I am 3 months later…have I managed to make the most of the power of Twitter?

To be honest, I have struggled. So I have decided to reflect on my experience so far and see where I have been going wrong and what I could do better.

My experience

The first thing I set up was my profile. Looking at my profile now it is very bland, it has a boring picture of me and a blue background. Is this really how I want to present myself? Am I trying to be a blank canvas, or do I want to be a real person? This reminds me of the practical decision of how I want to present myself as a Music Therapist in person. What should I wear? Should I put make up on? What is my body language communicating about me? I am aware that I may be considered as a role model to some and want to appear professional, but I also don’t want to impose a sense of conformity or superiority. How do I balance the need to be professional and unimposing with the need to be genuine, a real person who is unique, who regards themselves as mutual? This is something that I feel is important in the therapy session and all aspects of my practice, so I guess I should also reconsider my profile page.

The next thing I had to do was to decide who to follow. I firstly added people that I know, but it turns out that not many people I know actually use Twitter. I then just thought of a few music therapy and health and social care organisations that I could think of. Again, not many came to mind. I also followed sites such as TED and Huffpost who I already had been going to as an interesting resource of information and ideas, but this wasn’t a new thing for me. So I ended up doing what most people do and added whatever celebrities I could think of at that time.

Now, I am not saying that following Idris Elba has no benefits, but the reality is I don’t feel like many of the people I am following really have made a positive impact on my use ofTwitter. In fact, I feel quite dissatisfied. Some people haven’t really added any posts, so I have barely noticed they are there. Some people already know about music therapy, so I didn’t feel like I had anything new to contribute to them. And most of them had nothing to do with health and social care or any of the issues I care about. And because of this I haven’t been interacting with any of these people, because it seems irrelevant and pointless.

Should I follow people who I can relate to, who share my views and inspire me, or people who have very different ideas? It could be that if I interacted with the latter then we may broaden each other’s perceptions and challenge each other for the better of the world, or maybe they will just make me angry. I feel now that I need to be more selective in who I decide to network with. I need to think about who has the power to make a real difference for my clients, who has the influence to help spread the word of music therapy, who will be able to help me develop my own knowledge and activity. But this concept scares me a bit. I feel like this is treading into dangerous territory, I need to be very thoughtful and responsible in how I do this. I feel out of my depth and like I am the wrong person to be exploring this rocky road.

I also worried if who I follow communicates anything about me. If for example I followed a political figure and somebody looked at my profile, would they assume that is my political stance? In my clinical work I would never disclose this with my clients, and yet here I am announcing it for the whole world to see. So I worried that this is crossing a boundary. I don’t know if I should just follow as many people as possible to make this less obvious, or to avoid following any potentially controversial people at all. It is very hard to know where to draw the line.

As a consequence of this dilemma of who to follow I haven’t really made any posts (or, tweets!). I have basically retweeted posts and articles that I found to be interesting and relevant, but most importantly posts which I felt were safe enough to be associated with me. It comes back to this idea of how I want to present myself and maintaining therapeutic boundaries. I couldn’t make a satisfactory profile or follow the right people let alone interact with these people or voice my opinion. But the whole point of me joining Twitter was to do those very things! And you would think that someone in their twenties who is reasonably tech savvy would understand hashtags, but due to my tendency to avoid trends I had never used one before and found the concept a bit bewildering! Perhaps more people would be following me if I started to use hashtags and tweet people. And then maybe I would start to get somewhere.

What have I achieved?

So have I managed to make any progress in networking? No, which means that my quest for advocacy and activism has not progressed either. Has it helped inform my clinical practice in a positive way? Well, it has made it easier for me to find interesting articles which helps to broaden my understanding on health and socio-political issues. But to be honest, I could have been this silent character gaining information without the use of Twitter.

I need to reconsider how I want to be viewed by others, both in my profile and my tweeting. The aim will be to find that balance between being as genuine to myself as I can but with a focus on professional motives. I think at this stage in my career this is very difficult, I am still trying to develop this in my clinical practice and I think once I feel more confident in the real world of music therapy I might be able to translate this into the virtual world of Twitter. And as there are so few Music Therapists using Twitter at the moment I have hardly anybody to aspire to, to model my behaviour on.

It seems that to gain anything from using Twitter I will have to put a lot more effort and time into it. I will need to do some research on who to follow and to be more active in interacting with these people. I wonder if it is worth the effort – will it make a positive impact on the profession, on my practice, for my clients? Or should I spend the time doing things which have already been tried and tested, such as making a phone call, going to conferences, buying a book? I feel like the only way to know is to keep trying and to give Twitter a proper chance in discovering its true potential for Music Therapists.

© Laura Al Bandar 2016

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Laura Al-Bandar Written by:

Laura is a Neurologic Music Therapist. She works in a variety of settings and contracts solely with Chiltern Music Therapy as a freelance Music Therapist, working in the community across Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Middlesex. She is particularly interested in multi-cultural and feminist issues as well as promoting and developing the role of music therapy in health and social care.

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