Your mind needs practice, too

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume 113, No. 9October, 2013

Siena Shundi, LCSW-R

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, housing, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or (212) 397-4802

As a professional musician, practicing your instrument is as essential as breathing. Even at the top of your game, you’re constantly working on developing your craft. If someone asked you why you still practice, you’d probably laugh. Well, think about this: treating yourself to psychotherapy is also a kind of practice. You’re practicing getting to know yourself or helping yourself with a problem.

How we respond to the unpredictability of life shapes who we are. But sometimes unchecked stress can make life more difficult than it needs to be. One stressor adds to another. Sitting with a professional to practice understanding what we are going through, what to do about it, and how it happened (or maybe even how to prevent it), is one great way to develop our practice at living our life to its fullest.

We all have a very particular stress reaction based on our genetic inheritance and environmental experiences along the way. Some people get depressed; some get anxious. And not all stress is bad: think about the joy of getting a big gig, or meeting the man or woman of your dreams, or having a baby. Still, even good stress can be hard on you.

When it comes to stressful situations, you could just wing it and cope. But you wouldn’t do that with a hard piece of music, right? Instead, you’d practice. So handling stress in real life is all about developing and practicing your coping skills. And psychotherapy can help you do that.

But first, there may be some questions about psychotherapy that are stopping you from getting started. Here are a few.

Does being in therapy mean there is something “bad” about me? Quite the contrary. Psychotherapy is a choice and an investment. People who seek therapy have proven that they have the strength to work on living life to the fullest. They are often using the difficulties of life as opportunities. It takes courage to face challenges.

How long does therapy last? Doesn’t it take years? Long gone is the time when your only choice for therapy was 20 years of psychoanalysis. These days, there are solution-focused therapies that can last just a few months. Many people see a therapist just once a week, not several times a week as in the past. For example, in cognitive behavioral therapy, therapists help clients understand the connections between their feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Clients make small changes in these areas to reduce specific symptoms. This therapy is usually more structured and less open-ended. (You can decide to keep your process more open-ended, but most solution-focused therapy will probably encourage you to keep your goals at the forefront.) Ultimately, it’s really up to you. Your therapist is your guide, but you’re in control.

How do I “audition” my therapist? The act of discovering the right therapist for you can sometimes be as much work as the actual therapy itself. Ultimately, it’s about finding a personality match. You should know within the first couple of meetings whether the therapist is someone who you are comfortable talking to. The idea is that you should — with time — be able to be 100 percent honest with this person, so if you feel too much discomfort, it defeats the purpose. It’s a good idea to interview a couple of therapists to see how you feel with each one.

How can I afford psychotherapy? Even if you’re lucky enough to have health insurance, it may or may not cover psychotherapy. If you’re on the Local 802 health plan, psychotherapy has been a covered benefit since Oct. 1, 2012. Additionally, all members of Local 802 qualify for free, short-term counseling in my office. We have trained clinical social workers here that can help with one-on-one therapy, group therapy or couples therapy. Should you be interested in seeking services outside our office, we can help you find a good match.

So, what’s next? If you’re interested in learning more about psychotherapy, call my office at (212) 397-4802. We look forward to helping you become the best musician you can be.

P.S. We’d like to welcome Fredrick Bush to our office. Frederick is a graduate student in social work at NYU. He is a musician, and will be available for free, confidential counseling.