Hannah Nilsen, MT-BC

Where do you work and who are your clients?

Spring 2020 Member Spotlight

I work at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health Hospital, associated with Edward-Elmhurst Health. I serve the inpatient hospital in Naperville, primarily on the three adult units and adolescent unit. I work with people managing an array of diagnoses, including but not limited to depression disorders, anxiety disorders, active psychosis, and personality disorders. I am the only MT-BC, which certainly poses its challenges, being a relatively new professional (MT-BC less than 2 years). Luckily, I work on a team of Art Therapists, Recreation Therapists,  Dance/Movement Therapists, and an Occupational Therapist, that are incredibly supportive.  

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part is actively seeing individuals who demonstrate to be in the lowest of their low, suddenly come alive in music therapy. When these individuals smile, laugh, explore, and walk away saying “thank you, I needed that and didn’t know it” or seeing the individual who is so wrapped up in their psychotic or manic symptoms be able to sit calmly and focus in the moment, even if just momentarily. Prior to accepting this first job, I never imagined myself working in mental health. I completed my internship at Texas Children’s Hospital, and I still am in love with pediatric medical settings. But, having taken this job, I have learned so much and have a greater appreciation for the power of music in the simplest of ways. I’ve met amazing people and was given the opportunity to be a part of their crisis recovery – and I walk away thankful, every single day, for that opportunity. 

What inspired you to become a music therapist?

Like many MT-BC’s, I was someone growing up that put others first, sometimes to a fault, and that people trusted to confide in and seek help from.  I’ve always experienced personal validation and comfort from music, and always enjoyed performing. In high school, I literally google-searched “music and helping” and found AMTA’s website. I researched, spoke with multiple professors of music therapy, and never turned back. I went to the University of Evansville, completed internship in August 2018, and began my current job by October 2018. I consider myself one of the lucky ones whose career happened to fall into place almost seamlessly. 

What do you do for self-care?

Self-care… always an interesting question. During the recent months, this has been a challenging aspect of life. As I have continued to work full time through pandemic and ongoing crisis, self-care has been a struggle. Compassion fatigue is so real in the last two months. BUT, it is an area I’m always trying my best to work on. I love to read and care for my dogs, I’ve begun to explore water colors, and I just moved into my first house with my fiance, so simply having my (our) own space has been immensely helpful. I’m working my way back into at-home yoga sessions, courtesy of “Yoga With Adriene”. At the end of the day, having opportunity to spend time outside is my main pick-me-up. Camping, kayaking, hiking… I love it!

What’s once piece of advice you have for students or new therapists in the field?

Taking time, whatever that looks like for you, to use music for yourself. Maintaining your own connection with music helps keep the spark in our work alive – we need to believe and experience its power ourselves! Jam out during your commute – dance around your kitchen or room like a fool – sing with your family. Also, keep some music for yourself. If there are songs that hold meaning for you, don’t use it in therapy. This has helped me create boundaries between my personal life and professional life, as well as keep me grounded when I need help.