Making Yourself Heard as an Introverted Music Therapist – Guest Post by Laura Al Bandar

Introversion and Collaboration

As demands on health and social care have been increasing over the years it has been crucial for the profession of music therapy to make their voice heard. The necessity of Music Therapists collaborating with those around their clients, whether they be parents, teachers, or an MDT (I will call them carers in this article), has often shown to make a significant impact not only within the music therapy session, but also in the care outside of the session and in ensuring sustainability of future work. Being able to communicate effectively about the value and benefit of music therapy provision, and how it all works, is vital in advocating for the profession and for clients, and is essential in reaching out to new clients.

I am very passionate about this part of my job, however, I find it very hard. Like a lot of Therapists, I am an introvert. Luckily, just after I completed my training I was directed to Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (2013). Not only did reading this book help me to not feel like I was a complete weirdo, it made me realise that introversion has many qualities which I now hold very proudly. If you haven’t read it, you can get a taster of it by watching her TED talk here:

The two main factors which she says determine whether somebody is an introvert or an extrovert are:

  1. How quickly they make decisions;
  2. Whether they gain or lose energy from stimulus, and in particular social stimulus.

An introvert generally speaking takes their time to make decisions. They are very sensitive to sensory stimuli, and can easily become overstimulated. They tend to enjoy spending their time alone or in small groups, whereas being in large groups can completely drain their energy. And they generally take longer to get to know people, and (my favourite part) dislike small talk.

This mostly sounds negative, and although there are many wonderful things about being introverted (such as heightened creativity and empathy) it is very helpful to be aware of the daily challenges faced by an introvert. So how does this all relate to collaborative work in music therapy? Well personally, I find meeting new people can be difficult and can often become socially awkward if I am not feeling confident. Working in many different places as a freelancer, I have to meet lots of carers and try to get to know them as much as possible in the very brief time I see them. Sometimes I wish I enjoyed making small talk, as I feel this is often the best way to break the ice and develop the foundations for a positive working alliance. This can make me anxious, as I want to do the best job I can and I worry that I will not come across the way I would like.

Another problem I find is that I am not very good with words. Unless I am feeling very comfortable with that person and with what we are discussing, I find it hard to get the right words out straight away. This is another trait of introversion, and may be the reason why I find writing and non-verbal communication so powerful! It doesn’t help that it is really hard to explain how music therapy works to people who are unfamiliar with it. So, when I unexpectedly get asked the question ‘what is music therapy?’ or ‘how does this help?’, I can risk the chance of going completely blank and not giving a helpful answer.

I decided it would be really important to overcome this obstacle early on in my career. To do this, I would need to set up the optimal conditions for success, and to nurture the qualities of introversion so that I could do this as authentically and effectively as possible. I feel like I am still learning, but so far I have discovered a few key ideas which have helped me to become more socially effective.


Seeing introversion as a benefit

Firstly, what are the wonderful things about being an introvert, and how is this helpful as a Music Therapist? Here are some thoughts:

  1. Deep thinking– As Music Therapists we are required to reflect on the work we do with our clients. This is possibly why introverts are drawn to this profession. Being able to think deeply about the world of the client not only allows for more positive change to develop in the sessions but also offers a different perspective to carers who support them in different ways.
  2. Empathy and listening – Introverts are generally more able to empathise and have good listening skills. Although the social expectation can be to be dynamic and bold, Music Therapists can offer these different social skills of empathy and listening. This is not only helpful for our clients in the session but can also be very useful when talking to carers. For example, allowing just 5 minutes to give space to listen to a carer can help to contextualise, as well as providing some invaluable support to the carers themselves, which will in turn help the client.
  3. Creativity and innovation –Introverts are often more creative and innovative in their ideas due to their deep thinking and the way they process stimulus. As musicians we are apt at being creative, and we can encourage this in our clients. Thinking innovatively we can also develop new ideas of supporting clients both inside and outside of the session. This may help carers who may have become stuck at particular obstacles.
  4. Passion– Introverts generally need to feel very passionately and authentically about what they are doing and why they are doing it, and can be more conscientious. This may be why some musicians become Therapists, the desire to want to do some good in the world. When communicating to carers about music therapy this passion will help to show just how important this provision is.

How to maximise potential success

So now we know the good things we can offer as introverts, it is important to think about how to set up the optimal conditions for success. Generally speaking I think this is related to confidence, i.e. if we are feeling confident in ourselves we tend to become more socially effective. So, how can an introvert help themselves to feel confident?

  1. Believing in yourself – As it is so crucial for introverts to be authentic to their beliefs and to be passionate in what they are doing, it is essential to believe that what you have to say is important and needs to be heard. If you don’t really believe in what you are saying, why should anybody else? And in order for an introvert to muster the courage to engage people in this conversation, it has to be for a worthwhile cause.
  2. Preparation – If as an introvert you find some types of conversation or group interactions very difficult, then it is helpful to be prepared. This may mean spending that extra time reflecting on your own ideas, gathering resources, or using other modes of communication to reinforce what you want to express. If you aren’t sure about something that somebody asks you, be confident enough to say that you will come back to them later, and then you are more likely to give a good response.
  3. Self care – Being aware of what helps you as an introvert, and not feeling the need to conform to unhelpful activities, will help you develop strategies to do what is right for yourself. Typically, introverts need time to themselves, to be quiet for a bit, to allow themselves some space to let their ideas come together and to relax from all that stimulation. So find a quiet room, even if just for 10 minutes, and this will help to balance and re-energise your internal resources to do what is needed.
  4. Get the awkwardness out of the way – If I know I am going to be in an awkward situation, like constantly forgetting people’s names, I find it easier to just get this done and dusted early on so that I can relieve my anxieties and get on with the good stuff. Often, admitting to people your own flaws can help relieve the other persons anxieties too. For example, I have often said something like: “I’m so sorry, but I have forgotten your name! I am terrible with names, and as a freelancer I have to meet so many people that I just can’t remember them all! My name is Laura, by the way.” I often find people respond with relief “Oh that’s OK, I am terrible with names too!”.
  5. Replace small talk with real talk – If you hate small talk, don’t feel obliged to engage in this. Use those wonderful social skills of empathy and listening to try to understand where the carers are coming from. They may be introverted too! So try to be comfortable with that and tolerate the initial awkwardness. And remember that as much as you are passionate and knowledgeable about your job, you have spent at least two years training plus however many years work experience, whereas the carers may know very little about what you do. Try sparking their interest by asking if they like music, and use that to help explain why you believe so much in music therapy.

Of course, not all Music Therapists are introverts, but I think that this is a very overlooked factor in the profession, both for ourselves and in general when understanding the society we live in and how our clients fit in to this. I realise that I have a long way to go to achieve my own goal of being socially effective in these situations, but I hope that by implementing these strategies I will get there more often.

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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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