The Good and the Growth: a Music Therapy Internship during the Global Pandemic

Chloe (left) is sitting down; she is looking towards a harp (approximately 5 ft tall) is leaning against her. Both of her hands are plucking the strings. Katie (right) is sitting down and looking down at a large drum (approximately 3 ft in diameter) in front of her. She is playing it with a mallet.

Our internship journey started as expected, with both the nervousness of taking on a new role and hope about becoming a professional music therapist. We were beginning to feel grounded as intern music therapists when everything changed rapidly…by mid-March, all of our sessions were suspended and we were quarantining at home. Little by little, we were coming to terms with postponing our internship, when we were invited to continue by delivering music therapy…virtually?! We were just learning how to practice music therapy in person! Can this actually teach us how to be music therapists?!

Despite feeling uncertain, we moved forward, setting up our spaces and experimenting with sound quality. We even spent a day building our own backdrops; Katie’s was made out of posterboard and tape and Chloe’s out of PVC pipe and a curtain she found around her house!

This photograph is a screenshot of a Zoom call on two different screens. Chloe (left) is sitting in front of a polka-dotted curtain. Katie (right) is sitting in front of posterboard taped together with a flower decal. Both are smiling at the camera.

Within two weeks, we booked our first client virtually, and we weren’t sure how virtual music therapy would feel, especially with playing music with a time delay. In our first week back, we learned we could actually play music in many similar ways as to in-person sessions! We moved forward with a bit more hope, but also knew there was a long way to go. Over the next two months, we felt more comfortable with each session. Finally, we were ready to move out of survival mode and into a headspace that allowed for growth again.

One of the main highlights in our virtual music therapy internship has been the simple joy of seeing our clients and making music with them, as well as working with clients we wouldn’t have been able to in-person. Chloe’s favorite part of virtual music therapy is how authentic the music still feels, even when playing across the screen. Katie had an amazing experience singing hymns and spirituals with a client, making spiritual connections that felt wholesome even through a screen. Each Friday, we close our week out with a dance party session, where everyone is encouraged to let loose and find good energy for the weekend!

This photograph is a screenshot of a Zoom call on two different screens. Katie (left) is smiling and leaning back while playing ‘air violin.’ Chloe (right) is smiling and looking forward, with her hands pressing outwards.

Through all of the challenges of adapting to virtual sessions, we’ve experienced some exciting new benefits with using technology, and especially the screen share feature, including: more music tech compositions, Zoom chatting, musical games, and visual sharing, such as an image off of Google. One client of ours even writes songs with emojis!

This image is from the Arpeggios app on Google Chrome Music Lab (found at https://musiclab.chromeexperiments.com/Arpeggios/). There is a large circle on the screen with two layers to demonstrate the major and minor circle of fifths; the first layer is divided into 12 sections (clockwise C, G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, F), the second is also divided into 12 sections (clockwise a, e, b, f#, c#, g#, d#, a#, f, c, g, d). In the middle is a ‘pause’ button. There is a harp symbol in the bottom left, a metronome in the bottom right, and arrows on top. Above this image is a series of steps in different colors. It is being ‘played’ and there is a cursor in the middle of the notes (steps).

Transitioning from in-person to telehealth halfway through the internship posed many challenges and fears. One of our biggest concerns was whether we could gain the skills we needed to become professional music therapists with most of our internship occuring virtually. As we get ready to leave this internship, we will take with us a stronger sense of creativity, flexibility, adaptability, and resiliency. We are grateful to have learned within a supportive team, with great supervisors helping us along the way. While this experience didn’t turn out how we originally anticipated, we do trust that it has still provided us with what we need to enter the world as professional music therapists.