Being Musician and Psychotherapist During the COVID Lockdown : A Brief Auto Ethnography
Adam Ficek, DPsych candidate at the Middlesex University (London)
This brief text presents an outline of my experience as a professional musician and psychotherapist working with musicians through the pandemic. I explore the impact of the COVID19 lockdown through the lens of music identity and identity loss via my personal diary. The use of auto ethnography allows my insider perspective (Chang, 2008) to illuminate and communicate this lived experience more closely.
On the 20th of March 2020 the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated COVID19 a global pandemic. Subsequently, most countries went into lockdown prompting fear and uncertainty within the entertainment industry. Being a uniquely relational pursuit, the music industry’s live sector was propelled into panic and commercial shut down.
In my everyday life pre COVID I divide my time between being a live musician, DJ and psychotherapist. Within days of the enforced and unanticipated lockdown I had received the shattering news from my agent, my own therapist, and my patients regarding the loss of bookings and pre-booked face to face contact. This loss effectively meant all relational activities were paused apart from that within my immediate family or food shopping. This personal loss was echoed and amplified from my peers, colleagues and patients. The extract below is taken from my journal during March 2020.
I’m suddenly an antenna for friends, managers and agents who are in blind, bewildered, bludgeoned panic about the imminent shutdown of their lives.
We all thought this would blow over and it’s now formalised in the mass media and our embodied reality. Chops, drops and stops – I feel the cries of my music industry being over, the light dims, the show stops, the music’s turned down. I’m Stunned and silent as I watch for shreds of hope in the media or musings of my inner and outer circles.
My shoulders have been grinding since February but this has punched a hole in my core being. I’m one of those, the crowd that have been paused, frozen and fallen. The gigs, tours and recording sessions tearfully crawling away with the melancholic shrug of cancellation or empty postponements. Yes I’m a psychotherapist…..but, I’m innately, organically of the ‘musicking’ crowd, a musician therapist. There’s music in therapy and therapy in music but my trunk is firmly planted on the stave. I music, I am music, so what would this mean if it goes on forever. Flying, throwing panic at the sterility and sanitization of my culture if my music idiom gets plucked out of the jagged and bumpy ground of rebellion. The freedom, the future, the released rendering of a thousand musical excursions around the country, clubs and cultured world. Singing in a bubble, send my body out to work. Who am I now, I’m just a therapist, I work musically with people but I’ve lost a half and more of this ‘me’. From the blood, sweat and breathe to a sterile, digital mess.
Ten DJ bookings and an acoustic tour crunched under a heavy foot and it becomes very steady, angered, reality…..my client self, my performing self seem ill fitting and damply despondent. A barrage of loss to swallow in the deepening reality. Shock shakes the shock as I hold steady the chair with those who are similarly thrown from their lives. The seduction and reduction from musicking currently holds no charm. My music turns away and runs in the darkness.
I‘m in the chair ‘holding my own identities together and that of others who are feeling the ‘musicking’ fear. The full weight is unfolding between both myself and those I work with as I dig deep for the surface of our joint resourcing. I’m anchored to the chair and the resonance with others of a reluctant united standing both pushes and scaffolds me towards the dance of uncertainty. We ache together, climbing the unknown together. Therapy becomes the exploration of us both, for now this has morphed within the alchemy of the firm duality of a holding for many.
Can one only know the ‘being a musician if one is a musician’? Do people see us? Does it matter? Takes one to know one? The dedication we pushed and crawled up inside exudes a very different taste now in desertion. People’s meanings, livelihoods, the years and years and years of blind commitment put in. The worst bit is that no-one knows! Anger boils, whose fault is this? The blame lies where? There’s loss even at the end of a finger. No point in the pointing …
The excerpt describes the dual fear and loss of a core part of my identity construction through the involuntary transition (Fouad & Bynner, 2008) of the pandemic. More specifically the text shows how my self parts of ‘performer’, ‘rebel’, ‘DJ’, were under threat from the practical implications of the lockdown. This fear emerged from the loss of psychological grounding in how I present myself to others and how others view and understand me (MacDonald, 2017). After all, music is something we do rather than have, something that facilitates immersive human dialogue (Small, 1998).
As the lockdown continues to assert psychological, financial and identity pressure, I and those with whom I work continue on our collective sense of grief as we all try to make sense within these unknown times. The grieving stages of Shock and Numbness; Yearning and Searching; Anxiety and Longing; Disorganisation and Despair; Apathy and Anger have still yet to evolve into the Reorganisation and Recovery that many of us are reluctant to embrace (Bowlby, 1961).
We still remain in the unknown … but music and musicians will continue the journey of musicking.
Bowlby, J. 1961. Processes of mourning. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42, 317-339.
Chang, H. 2008. Autoethnography as method. Walnut Creek, CA. Left Coast Press.
Fouad, N. Bynner, J. 2008. Work transitions. American Psychologist, 63, 241–251.
MacDonald, R. Miell, D. Hargreaves, D. (eds) 2017. The Handbook of Musical Identities. Oxford University Press.
Small, C. 1998. Musicking: The meaning of performing and listening. Wesleyan University press.