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  • Finding My Voice

    As part of my Music-Integrated Counselling training program, I was offered a one-on-one session with the instructor. My instructor happens to not only be a certified music therapist, but also a Psychotherapist. So, I knew by taking them up on this offer, I would have an opportunity to explore something that was sensitive for me both personally and professionally as a musician.

    For as long as I can remember, I lose my voice when I cry. Even before my eyes well up with tears, my throat tightens to the point that I am unable to speak. As a young voice major completing my degree in music, I struggled for this reason to sing certain songs with lyrics that were emotionally intense. As an adult, I have had to decline singing at funerals because of it. I’ve never fully understood it. I just accepted that “I lose my voice when I cry” and chalked it up to some physiological thing I had no control over.

    What an opportunity to explore this in a session – with a Psychotherapist/Music Therapist who actually works with musicians, no less. It took us less than 10 minutes of exploring this “vocal issue” therapeutically to understand it.

    It is not unusual for people’s throats to tense and voices to change a little when they cry. But why would my throat automatically tighten as a physical response to an emotion I was feeling to this extent?

    As we explored, I had developed the habit of not letting myself cry at a very young age. Those of you familiar with the term “fawning” may appreciate what I am referring to. Fawning is when we get really good at making the people around us comfortable or keeping the peace, even at the expense of our own emotional expression. I recall telling a family member as a little girl that I “cry in my head”. When I recalled this in session, I realized exactly what had happened. Tightening my throat was how I stopped myself from crying as a child because I knew how uncomfortable and upset it made those around me feel. Over time, this coping mechanism became a habit. Eventually, it became an automatic physical response whenever I was about to get “emotional”. I was amazed at how quickly we unpacked this, and the phrase “we feel our feelings in our bodies” has never felt so true.

    From there, we explored some of the same tools I teach my own clients when coping with difficult emotions, such as the R.A.I.N. practice by Dr. Tara Brach. But in addition, my Music Therapist/Psychotherapist instructor was equipped to offer me Music Therapy vocal exercises to help me “find” my voice as I cry. I was now able to recognize when it is happening, allow it, relax my throat through it, and soon give myself permission to feel openly.

    It took a mere 2 days when an opportunity to practice this arose. At a sports event in St. John’s for one of my children, a player fell with a bad blow to their head during a game. As they lay on the field waiting for an ambulance, attended by coaches and parents, I could feel it. Things got very quiet, and we were all very worried. My throat tightened, and my eyes welled up with tears. But then, something different happened. I recognized how my body was responding, so I consciously relaxed my throat. And then, underneath my sunglasses, a couple of tears fell. Someone asked me if I was ok, and I was able to say “Yes.” No one noticed the tears, and soon the wave of emotion passed. The paramedics arrived and the player, who was now speaking and actually wanting to play again, was being taken away on the stretcher. We all applauded with encouragement and support as they left the field. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only parent who shed a tear for that player and then breathed a sigh of relief. We are all human. We feel for each other, and expressing that is part of our experience of connecting and supporting one another.

    That little girl who learned how to “cry in her head” grew up to be an adult who is very good at reading the emotional energy in the room and making the people around her comfortable. This is a strength that serves my clients well in the work I do as a counsellor. Personally, it can also be a gift for those I have been in a relationship with. But being in a habit of “crying in your head” and prioritizing the comfort of others instead of expressing your feelings can sometimes lead you down a path of not giving yourself permission to feel. It can even cause you to lose your own physical voice.

    As a counsellor, I often support clients through the struggle of working with intense feelings. As a human being, I still struggle with it myself sometimes. Working through this therapeutically and musically has opened a door of emotional growth for me that I didn’t even realize was possible. And, it has deepened my appreciation for how effective Music-Integrated Counselling can really be.

    – Michelle