I think everyone has experienced at some point the awkward silence in conversation. It is probably the thing that I dread most while in a hospice session.
I am always trying to avoid those awkward moments, filling the holes with wordage or saying “how about another song.” It can be easy to avoid sometimes, but just recently, I attended a meeting with some of my fellow music therapists, and we talked about counseling skills in a music therapy setting. One of the topics brought up was about silence. We all joked about how we try to avoid awkward silences in our sessions, but then talked about how therapeutic silence can be.
Silence allows a client time to reflect on the issue at hand, and sometimes just sitting in silence is a way we as Music Therapists can honor our patient. It also leaves the door open for the patient to disclose more information or redirect the conversation. Sometimes, I find myself asking more questions or trying to steer the conversation in a different direction to avoid those silences, but maybe what I think is going to be therapeutic for the patient is not.
The other day, I was visiting a hospice patient, and for the purpose of this story I will call her "Marie".
Marie was in great spirits when I arrived. She sang and sort of be-bopped with me and was tapping her toes and moving her shoulders in rhythm to the music; and since it was the anniversary of Elvis’ death we were singing Elvis songs. Marie loved Elvis, she shared about his life and how he will live on forever, but then we came to the song Love Me Tender. All of a sudden, Marie’s mood changed. Her face became sad looking. Her mouth drooped to a frown, her eyes welled up with tears, and I could tell she was getting choked up because she was no longer able to sing anymore.
After the song was over, I mentioned to Marie that it seemed as though that particular song had a special affect on her. She smiled and said, “Yeah, sometimes songs do that.” I really wanted to ask more questions to get more answers, but instead Marie and I just sat in silence for a minute. It was a little uncomfortable, but I wanted Marie to make the next move. A few seconds later Marie said, “Hey didn’t that Elvis have any upbeat silly songs,” and we were back to be-bopping and moving with the music just as in the beginning of the session. I could have pushed Marie, asked more questions, but Marie obviously wasn’t ready for that. I think if she were, she would have continued the conversation, but instead the conversation was redirected to something else. The silence allowed her to reflect on whatever feelings she was experiencing at the time and also gave her the opportunity to discuss the issue further had she wanted to.
I guess my lesson from this is that silence is OKAY. You don’t have to fill every second with a song or conversation, and I would challenge other therapists to welcome the awkward silences in your sessions as well.