Growing from “No” in the Medical Music Therapy Setting

By Betsy Gifford, MusicWorx Intern

The most important word you will ever hear that will shape your character is “no.”

Take a moment and let that statement sink in….

If you’re anything like me, such a bold statement instantly makes you defensive and begin thinking up arguments for why it is wrong. I recently read a book called “Go For No! For Network Marketing” written by Richard Fenton, Andrea Waltz, and co-authored by Ray Higdon. Fenton and Waltz’s first book, “Go For No! Yes is the destination, No is how you get there,” was an Amazon bestseller when it first came out 18 years ago and is still listed in the Amazon top twenty sales bestsellers list.

Let’s be honest, if it wasn’t for being an assignment, I probably wouldn’t have finished this book, what with everything going on in internship and life in general, there just seems to always be something better to do than read a self-improvement type of book. Which goes to show that sometimes we need annoying things like assignments to push us to do things that are good for us. I found that to be especially true as I read this book and it began challenging my personal mindset and how I present myself in both my professional and personal life.

A perfect example of that was the other morning as I pulled up to a car repair shop without an appointment and a tight time schedule. My natural timidity started saying “Eh…I could probably make it another couple hundred miles without getting an oil change.” Immediately, my next thought was, “No, ‘Go For No,’ see if they have time for you, don’t make assumptions for them (one of the concepts in the book).”  I invite you, whether you are a CEO or a college student, to read the ten concepts I have outlined in this blog with an open mind and use it as a tool to evaluate your mindset when hearing the word “no.”

1.)  We shy away from failure as though it is a death sentence, but the reality is that success only comes after failure.

Leading a music therapy session or facilitating an intervention will never go perfectly the first time. It might go well and it definitely could be successful, but I will always miss something. Personally, I get so focused on the musical aspect of what I’m doing that I frequently forget to watch for the patient’s response or take concrete data on the intervention so that I can have solid evidence to support my results rather than just saying “oh yeah, it went well.” (Not exactly what insurance companies are looking for…) Being able to simultaneously provide quality music interventions, monitor the patient’s reaction, tailor the session specifically to the patient’s response, AND take data requires a lot of practice, more than you can get in a classroom or practicing on your own. You have to get in a real-life situation and try it in real-life (AKA – fail a few times) to know what you are good at and what you aren’t.

2.) Failing in one thing does not mean that YOU are a failure.

In the scenario under the first point, I did provide a quality music experience – that was a success. But I likely didn’t take any data or respond in real-time to the patient’s response. That aspect of the session was a failure, or from another perspective, an opportunity for additional growth. Taking note of successful parts of a session gives me the validation and encouragement I need to keep going. Taking note of the failed parts of a session shows me where I need to keep working and growing.

3.) Failing faster means that you succeed faster.

As I stated earlier, most of us avoid failure as though it is a death sentence. But when you accept and embrace the fact that success is impossible without failure, a natural conclusion is that success will come faster if failure comes faster. If my goal in a day at the hospital is to have four patient contacts that result in interventions, but I wait until my last hour at the hospital to see patients because I’m afraid they will all decline music therapy, then I severely limit my ability to successfully reach my goal.

4.) Emotional reaction to hearing “no” – SW SW SW SW

“No” is an emotionally packed word. In the example of seeing patients at the hospital, I allowed my emotional reaction to hearing “no” stop me from being professional and providing music therapy services to patients in the hospital. In order to be professional and provide those services, I have to learn how to decrease the emotions evoked by hearing “no.”

One simple, easy to remember mantra in the book to help decrease an emotional reaction is “SW-SW-SW-SW” = “Some will, Some won’t, So What?, Someone’s Waiting.” I end up losing sight of what comes next when I view each interaction as the end game. I have to find a balance between being present in the moment, and allowing the moment to be all I am focused on. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: “And if you do have an emotional reaction to any one situation, make it just that – a single situation.”

5.) The hazards of a comfort zone.

My comfort zone in a music therapy setting is providing music listening experiences. My first successful sessions in a hospital were focused on getting music in the room. When I began being successful at that part of the session, patients responded by telling me I had a beautiful voice and that they loved having live music! Well, everybody loves compliments, and that was a pretty rewarding compliment to hear. That established my comfort zone of simply providing music listening to patients. However, I did not go to college for four years, accrue thousands of dollars in loans, and move halfway across the country to provide “beautiful music listening” experiences. Music therapy is more powerful than simply singing to someone. As I described in my last blog, music therapy is not “just playing music and making people feel better.”

Simply having this knowledge doesn’t mean it’s easy to facilitate other interventions, such as song categories, songwriting, and guided imagery, which are a lot more complicated than playing guitar and singing. Song categories almost always guarantees that the patient will request a song I don’t know. Songwriting pushes my musical abilities in lyric writing, music styles, and improvisation. Guided imagery tests my abilities in multi-tasking. All of these examples provide numerous opportunities to make mistakes and fail, which is far outside of my comfort zone. However, my experiences have taught me that only minimal, if any, growth happens in the comfort zone. I have learned the most from jumping into something and trying it even if I know I am going to fail on some level. I’ve discovered that I know more than I think I do, and I can respond in ways that surprise even myself.

6.) Never make decisions for others.

One of the best and worst things about music therapy is that you never know what will happen. Just this week, I had a follow-up session where I thought the best use of time would be songwriting for emotional processing. To my dismay, the patient fell asleep halfway through the first song. Obviously the patient needed to relax enough to fall asleep, which the music provided for her. If I had pushed my own decision for emotional processing on her in the session, I could have caused more harm than good and potentially made this patient a strong advocate against music therapy.

7.) Being “pully” instead of “pushy.”

Drawing someone in by painting a picture rather than by pushing them towards a decision is a concept I had never heard described in these words before. The idea is similar to what my internship director always says, “’No’ just means they need more information.” Being “pully” is giving them the additional information they need to make a well thought-out decision. In music therapy, being “pully” can be the difference between saying “Your nurse told me you’re in a lot of pain right now. Why don’t we do a guided imagery exercise that’ll make you feel better,” versus “Your nurse mentioned that you’ve been having a lot of pain today. One of the things we offer in music therapy is guided imagery, where I describe a place that feels comforting and serene to you and provide music in the background. This can help distract you from the pain. Would that be something you’d like to try today?”

In the first scenario, I would be taking the choice away from the patient and pushing my own agenda on them. In the second scenario, I am painting a picture of what music therapy can offer and allowing the person to make the choice of what they would want. I’m offering something that I truly believe would be beneficial for the person, but if I don’t present it correctly, it can come across the wrong way and the person may not be interested in it, even though it might be beneficial for them.

8.) Every “no” has hidden information

Every time someone tells you “no,” there’s a reason. The reason could be that they truly aren’t interested in what you are offering, either because it’s a bad time for them or they don’t feel that it would be a good fit for them. In those cases, their “no” means that they are not interested in any more information. Remembering our mantra of “don’t make decisions for other people,” we won’t know if that’s the reason unless we ask them more about why they said no. Sometimes they say “no” because of how you presented it. In that case, asking them why they said “no” can be a learning experience for you, a tool that you can use to improve how you posture yourself and present your services.

9.) Vision vs. Your “Why?”

In order to be able to hear “no” and not take it personally and still be able to keep pushing forward, you need a good reason for doing so. A person’s “why?” for doing something is typically an external reason. Their “why” may still be a strong and powerful driving force, but will likely not be as strong as an internal reason. A person’s vision for something is an internal idea of what they hope to be or what they hope to change. Their vision is something that is powerful enough to push through hearing “no,” particularly at the onset when you are developing the skill to hear “no” and not respond emotionally. In entering the professional music therapy world, I am facing a lot of decisions. One of the first and biggest decisions is where to work. Music therapy is still a small enough field that there are ample opportunities for me to create my own business. Doing that, just as creating any business, is going to require hearing a lot of “noes” and pushing through. The question I am asking myself as I begin that phase of life is, “Is my vision strong enough to carry me through to its completion?”

10.) “Character is measured by the number of times you hear no.”

Since reading “Go For No,” I have begun noticing more opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone and explore what it is like to go up against controversy and not back down. The greatest failure I can experience in my life is not to be told “no” or to fail at something, but rather to stop trying and stop going up against controversy. My challenge to you now is to measure how hearing “no” affects you, and how you allow that to shape who you are and what you do.


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