Familiar with Sorcerer Mickey? He’s my favourite of Disney’s animated characters and for good reason. He has taught me how to be more aware of client energy in sessions. I truly believe that reading the energy of our clients within each session is the most important thing we can do to help each of our clients feel safe and regulated. This allows them to build trust with us as facilitators, helping them use the power of music to meet their potential and achieve their goals.

Whenever I begin a session, whether I’m working with an individual client or a group of clients, I always begin by reading the energy in the room. I envision a ball of bright colourful smoke that I can hold in my hands -kind of like Sorcerer Mickey as he conducts the waves of water. The smoke is the energy of the room and as the facilitator of the session, my job is to help control that smoke while we move from activity to activity. I ask myself, is the ball of smoke too big or too small to start my session off with. I adjust my volume, facial affect, musical accompaniment, etc. to reflect where I want the energy to begin and help mold and shape that energy into something my client(s) can be comfortable with, feel regulated in and respond to interaction opportunities with me as a result.

I then start to stretch that ball of smoke a little in one direction, and then bring it back to the starting point. I do this over and over again, seeing how far I can play with their energy, helping elicit various responses through the music. If someone within the group starts to become dysregulated, I can bring that smoke back to the center, and gradually build it back up. It’s amazing to see clients express themselves when they feel safe within the energy in the room that as a music therapist, I am helping to regulate.

This is also a great way to help yourself as a therapist be aware of outside influences on the energy in the room. Especially when working with clients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Did someone enter the room and create a distraction? Was someone suddenly talking loudly in the background of your session? Are your helpers/assistants/EAs/parents talking with each other rather than modeling desired outcomes? Environmental things like radios/televisions being on in the background, or too many lights on also affect that ball of smoke. All of these things among many others can change the overall energy of the room constantly throughout each session. These outside influences often cause the little contained ball of smoke you’re holding in your hands to become unstable. It’s our job as music therapists to control these things as best as we can, so that they don’t affect that ball of smoke in a negative way. What I always try to avoid is losing control of the energy which can cause a client to become dysregulated resulting in overstimulation and sometimes even meltdowns.

Learning how to visualize your clients’ energy helps you as a therapist to be able to see and feel when the energy is shifting. The better you are at seeing and feeling this energy shift, the faster you can take that energy and bring it back to your safe starting point, containing that ball of smoke between your two hands again. You can then begin to pull it in one direction, and then another, always returning to your center.