The Music of Therapy

Not long ago, I played bass in a band. I’ve never been much of a bassist. In truth, if someone were to say to me, “You play the bass, don’t you?” the most honest reply would probably be, “Well, I own a bass.”

When I was performing with my band, I had terrible stage fright. Every time I flubbed (which was quite often), I was certain the people sitting in the audience were thinking, “Get off the stage, you no-talent boob, so I can hear the band!”

I’d like to think I’m a better therapist than I am a bassist. But still, therapy is an art, not a science, and occasionally I find myself fumbling around. When I do, I sometimes think of my little miscalculations and wrong turns as evidence I’m not a very good therapist. But recently I realized that sitting in a room with a client in some ways is not all that different from being in a band, and that gave me a new perspective on things.

When my band finished our set, people often told us how much they enjoyed the show. They didn’t hear the missed notes. What they heard was the authenticity of the sound. They heard the heart and the joy of the sounds we were making.

A musician friend of mine says that in fact all the little errors are what make it good. Listen to music made by a computer, and you’ll know what he means. All that perfection makes it sterile. Without the flaws, there’s no musicality.

As a counselor, what’s important is the essence of a receptive and open-hearted presence, even amidst each little error or wrong turn. When my client and I are sitting together in my office, we’re playing beautiful music. Sometimes dissonant, but always beautiful.