Alumni Interview: Chelsea Davis, #57

Intern # 57, Chelsea Davis

IMG_0197Chelsea’s internship experience shaped her life and future differently than most.  She was struggling emotionally on top of the hectic and demanding schedule.  She learned a lot about the importance of self-care, which I (Brianna) also learned the hard way.  I literally felt like I was losing my mind at one point – I had to take a step back and take care of myself before I could care for others.  Chelsea has some great tips on avoiding getting to that point.  She had an incredible journey that lead her into a path different than most.

1. What is your current job? 

I currently work as a teaching artist for a non-profit in an elementary school district. I provide music enrichment for children K-6, including students with disabilities in SDC classes or who are mainstreamed into the classroom. I sing with and handle booking for a jazz quartet called The Lovestory Quartet. I also have a side music therapy business with a handful of clients, which I subcontract out to another MusicWorx alum.

In the last seven years, I have owned a drum circle business, sung with a jazz quartet for corporate gigs and weddings, taught music classes for preschoolers, designed music curriculum, provided music therapy (MT) services for geriatric patients, worked as a teaching artist, acted in a TV pilot, and recorded two sets of original demos.

My real passions are inner healing, songwriting and recording, and performing. In 2011, I co-founded a performing arts duo called “The Aurora Crossing” with spoken word poet Ana Sanchez. We are recording our first album and seeking to use our performance platform to create awareness about the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation, of which we are both survivors. This year we launched a blog about being “in process” – both creatively and in our personal healing journeys (; some of our music is up there! I’ve been giving some songs away to MT’s and hearing back about their sessions which has been quite encouraging.

2. Would you say MusicWorx helped you get to where you are today?

Certainly, but not in the way you’d expect. MusicWorx was one of the most difficult, catalytic, and clarifying experiences of my life to date. The most obvious result of the internship was that it prepared me to walk into any client setting and improviserespond appropriately, which has been incredibly helpful in my vocational exploration over the last seven years. I’ve tried many things—most of which I gained the skills to do through MusicWorx—including drum circle facilitation and group songwriting, which I use as a teaching artist. I also learned many of the Golden Oldies tunes, which I now perform with my jazz quartet, in full 1920’s and 30’s regalia for Vintage Hollywood and Speakeasy parties. My internship final project was a workbook of original songs, session plans, and my first complete demo recording. This was an incredible foretaste of seeing how my original writing could impact others and encourage deeper inner work and healing.

Personally, I was dealing with a lot of my own inner healing while I was at MusicWorx. This was both good and bad. I still remember having a major personal epiphany while listening to a staff member speak at the McDonald Center during a music therapy session. Changed…My… Life!!! Unfortunately, I had so few internal and external resources at the time, I was totally overwhelmed by the workload, emotional heaviness, and I almost quit in week seven. While I decided to stay, I didn’t have the experience or know-how to care for myself well in the midst of caring for so many others.  Consequently, I was clinically depressed and burned out after I completed my internship and needed several months to recover before I could look for work.

MusicWorx clarified for me that I did not want to be a music therapist, run my own full time business, or live life in such a hectic way. At the same time, I’ve utilized almost everything I learned there, just not in a specifically therapeutic setting.

3. What drew you to the MusicWorx internship?

Initially I was drawn by a few things:

1.      I didn’t know what area of music therapy in which I wanted to work, and I knew MusicWorx would provide me with the opportunity to experience a vast array of populations.

2.       I wanted to explore psychodynamic models of music therapy and I knew drum circle facilitation and the creative arts would facilitate that learning. It’s still my favorite part about working with people, and I use those observational skills with friends, family, in the classroom, on my blog, and when I’m facilitating inner healing groups with my faith-based groups.

3.      It was prestigious and I was ambitious and really wanted the accolade of being a MusicWorx intern and alum. It definitely gave me a sense of pride to be accepted. I knew it was a hard internship, and I have a habit of running straight into really hard situations.

4. What was your favorite moment of your internship experience?

I don’t know about a moment, but I know that my internship partner, Wendy Krueger, was God’s saving grace to me that entire six months. We hit it off on Day 1 (which I know is not everyone’s experience). If it weren’t for her snarky wit that always had me laughing, her constant cajoling to let go of my plan and improvise, and her encouragement about my songwriting, I definitely wouldn’t have finished. We also made a completely ridiculous mockumentary about the internship (God knows where that time came from…), that literally had us rolling on the floor of the office. We kept each other afloat, and I’m grateful for our friendship that I know will be life-long.

5. Are there any aspects of what you learned at MW internship that best prepared you for your career today?

Learning jazz standards, group songwriting, and drum circle facilitation.  In one way or another, almost everything I’ve chosen to do or not to do, has been related to MusicWorx somehow. I had the skills I needed to be incredibly marketable in a lot of ways, and I had the burn-out experience to remind me that just because I can do something well doesn’t mean I am called to do it. I think that’s a hard lesson for talented, creative folks.   After MusicWorx, I wanted to create a very different life from the one I lived in San Diego—one that honored the personal healing journey I’m on and how that can be a gift to others. This has involved a lot of letting go, accepting my own limits, and learning good self-care. I’m a much better (and more functional) human being as a result. I don’t blame the internship for what was going on for me internally: it was baggage I brought with me.

6. What was one of your biggest challenges during your internship? 

My biggest challenge was definitely the emotional stress of working with so many populations when I was in so much emotional pain myself. I had been going to therapy before I graduated college and moved to San Diego, so I was very emotionally raw. I was frequently triggered by the issues of patients, but there was no time to really deal with the counter-transference because the workload was so demanding.  At the time, MW didn’t seem like an appropriate venue to find the emotional support I needed because it was a professional setting. I was far from my usual support structures (my church and community) and I felt very alone. I needed more emotional support, better self-care, more sleep, and better boundaries about work to give myself time to process the experience. I think that’s why I crashed so hard afterward.

And schlepping … Apparently there isn’t an elevator to deal with now. Holy moly, I can’t tell you how many times we packed the drums onto carts, pulled them down the hall, down the elevator, into the parking lot, unpacked into the car, drove to the session, packed the drums back onto the carts, hauled them inside and set them all up again… just to do it in reverse. Sometimes we did this several times a day, including going up and down the elevator both ways. Geese Louise! =D

7. What was your biggest “aha” moment for your professional and/or personal growth?

I had a profound revelation through my encounter with the 12-step model at McDonald’s Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Center. There was a native American man at McDonald’s who had been an addict himself, had been in 12-step recovery for 20 years, and now worked there as a mentor. He told the patients his life stories, and I learned a lot about myself through his hard-learned wisdom. Though our lives were incredibly different, there were uncanny parallels. I deeply appreciated that he modeled and invited others into honesty and vulnerability, while still maintaining a professional relationship. This was a vulnerability that I felt wasn’t appropriate for me in the context of a therapeutic relationship as an intern, but it inspired me. I am now seeking to live that out through my writing and performing as I share my own healing journey.

8. What would be your one piece of advice to future MusicWorx interns?

One piece of advice??? Yikes!!! Drive a Prius?

No, seriously. Take care of yourself, and don’t neglect your spouse if you have one. There is always more work to do. The list of needs and tasks is endless. There’s charting and planning and sessions and driving and meetings and hospital rounds. All of those referrals are important AND there’s a point at which you need to say: I’m done for the day. I have reached my saturation point, and I need to nurture myself for an hour or two so I can be present tomorrow. Go to the beach. Journal. Sing because you want to, not because you have to. If you don’t regularly care of yourself, you can’t care for anyone else well. Seriously—you’re no good to anyone if you’re exhausted and burned out.

Your personal limits may be different than everyone else’s on the team, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you need to learn your threshold, honor it, and stick with it, regardless of the demands around you. It’s ok to say, “No. I cannot handle everything. I am not superwomanman. I’m going to trust that everything is going to be alright if I put it down for 10 hours.” Knock off and get some sleep. It’ll be waiting for you to pick back up in the morning.

I talk like this, and I like to play the drum while I sleep


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