“We’re Going to Make This Place Your Home”- A post on Music Therapy

The morning after my father suddenly passed away, my mother found his iPod. There were three songs on there that we had never heard before. The lyrics to them related so well to the shocking loss, that it felt as if my dad was talking to us. I’ve always known music is used therapeutically for a variety of clients of all ages and varying conditions, but after my personal experience, I not only know the information, but I can say that I’ve experienced the positive effect music has on grieving, recovery, and coping.
After seeing a client today, I got in my car hearing what I thought was a happy, upbeat song playing. Thirty seconds in, I felt like my radio was talking to me and I had tears flowing down my cheeks. The song was “Home” by Phillip Phillips. It really made me think about my clients and how it related to them. If you are able to, listen to the song now, so that you are able to “hear” it throughout this article.
What do you think of when you hear the word “home?” You may think of home sweet home, cozy, comfortable, joy, fun, family, relaxing by a fireplace, or happiness. However, if you are an individual who has suffered a brain injury, you may not think of home this way. As do many clients initially, you may think of it as work, a source of stress, frustration, anxiety, overwhelming, and piles upon piles of items or papers. If you feel this way, please know our goal as community based OTs is to do exactly what he says in his song, “make this place your home.”  When we say home, we want it to mean the fun, cozy, comfortable, home sweet home others think of when they hear this word.
In the beginning of the song, he sings, “Hold on to me as we go, as we roll down this unfamiliar road.” In the beginning of our community based OT journey, you may hear us say the same. We want to help you get back to the things you want to do, but have been unable to. Sometimes that may mean literally holding on to our arm for the first time walking into a store since your injury. We will assist you down the unfamiliar roads and the first few times, you may need to hold on to us as we go, however you will ultimately be strong enough to go on your own. The more you do, the less unfamiliar roads you will have.
We ask you to travel not only unfamiliar roads, but challenging and frightening paths as well. We do often tell you a phrase that you will again hear repeatedly throughout this song, “just know you’re not alone.” From the day we first meet our clients, we reassure them that they are not alone, that we are here to help get the joy back into their lives, the smile back on their face, and transition them back into their comfortable, fun, loving, and happy home.
You may be asking yourself “how?” How do we begin to change any of this? “Life will settle down, it will all be clear,” he states in the song. This reminds me of the many times I have heard clients tell me time and time again that their anxiety is too overwhelming, they can not think straight or even at all, and they can not stand the thought of leaving their house. We work with you to get you through these feelings of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.
You may feel like your world is a million piece puzzle that has not only been shaken around, but then thrown up in the air like confetti in the middle of a forest. This leaves you standing alone wondering where to begin to even try to put this puzzle back together when you have no guide, no picture as to how it is supposed to look like. You feel overwhelmed, discouraged, and defeated and feel as if you are unable to start this project. As community based OTs, we are able to come into your environment, and act as the picture on the top of the puzzle box. We are able to show and remind you of the full picture and all the joys you have to look forward to. We are able to remind you of all the positives of piecing your life back together. OT will give you the tools and small cues such as “find the edges of the puzzle first.” You are ultimately the one putting all the work into it. You are the one finding the pieces and putting it together. Once you start to recognize the picture and get a general idea of what it is going to look like, we are able to step back and allow you to fine tune and finish the masterpiece on your own. You have the capabilities and now the confidence to put together the pieces to find “you” and your home prior to your brain injury. Your safe, sweet, comfortable home.
During the tough times, you may experience negative self-talk. Please listen when he says, “Don’t pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear.” Do not let those voices, inside or outside, tell you that you can no longer do something. Whether it be going to stores, making decisions, managing finances, learning new technology, volunteering or working in the community, or going back to school. It may be hard in the beginning to rebel against those negative voices and thoughts telling you that you can’t. But, once you do and prove to them that you CAN, you will have that confidence the next time the negative voices are trying to persuade you. The next time, it will become a little bit easier to prove to them you CAN, then the next even easier, until eventually, those negative thoughts are gone and replaced with a positive feedback cycle telling you that you CAN DO IT. You can go down that unfamiliar road with confidence!
Throughout your journey, you are bound to run into obstacles, however, you are strong enough to overcome them. In the song, he says, “If you get lost, you can always be found.” There are two ways to take this, and the first is literal. If you have a smart phone, as a goal, OT is able to assist you in setting that up and many have GPS features that indeed, if you are lost, you can be found. Technology is great and can give us comfort that we could be found if we are literally lost, however there is another meaning to this phrase. I think of it as if you go down that unfamiliar road, you may make a wrong turn, get lost, or come to a bump in the road. Please do not let this discourage you. Someone can guide you over that small bump or through that miniscule dark spot. Once your through the rough spot, you can finish the road on your own. When you are done, do not look at that journey as a failure or a negative at all. Instead, think of it this way: you did 90% of a task on your own that you would have never attempted before. You now have a goal for next time.
The final point that I want to make about this song is that the background music reminds me of cheering and clapping. This is what I want to do everyday when I am with my clients. I see improvements and positive changes each and everyday.
I had a client who not only had decreased short-term memory, but there was virtually no carryover.  The other day while walking in a store, I was in the middle of giving him instructions on using his phone when he became distracted in the CD section. He was discussing his favorite artists for about 8 minutes. When he was finished, I had forgotten what we were discussing before he became distracted, but he walked up to me, and asked, “now what were you telling me about my phone?” I wanted to scream, jump up and down, and cheer for him right then and there, but being that we were in the middle of a store, instead I just stood there, got tears in my eyes, and explained to him how happy I was.  Now the one word I would change in this song is instead of “I’M going to make this place your home”, for our purpose, it should be “we” because it is a collaborative effort between the client and OT, and in reality, the client does the hardest part and the most work. 
For me, this song sang right to my heart and brought instant tears to my eyes. For you, it might bring hope, happiness, or mixed feelings, but if you feel like you have lost your home, please don’t lose hope. Let someone help you make your place back to your home. 
Jessica Andrus, MOT, OTRL
Life Skills Community Rehabilitation & Associates, LLC