Why we chose to avoid the “elf”


I have never been one to follow the crowd.  Even though I am an introvert by nature, I tend to speak my mind and question authority (ask my husband…oh and my parents!). . . .and I am never ok with believing what the majority says.  So!  When I first heard about the Elf on the Shelf, I was skeptical.  Don’t get me wrong, this little elf sounds like so much fun.  It’s the type of fun I would love to have.  I have some mischievous qualities to myself, and the elf would fit right into my life.  I spent many minutes of my life dreaming up great ways for this little elf to be devious and sneaky.  I mean. .. . .come on!  I was the preschool teacher who took green paint and walked her fingers all over the classroom to make her preschoolers think the leprechauns had visited the classroom overnight.  As a child, I had a wild imagination and still do, which has made me a “dreamer” as an adult.  But I digress.  I love this type of stuff!!!!!  It could be a real obsession for me.  My child would probably believe in all these things for the rest of her life because I would be THAT good.  No really.

But then our daughter was born.  Many of the “i have to’s” went out the door.  They were either not important anymore or just plain stupid.  The older she became, the more we started talking about how we would handle Christmas, halloween and all of our holiday traditions.  Growing up, Christmas was all about Jesus, but we also included santa claus.  Oh I loved santa claus.  I loved him so much that I believed whole heartedly that he was real and that somehow God gave him special powers to do everything he did.  That was until my 7th grade (you read that right) teacher asked everyone in the class, “so how did you find out santa claus was a fake?”  WHAT?!?!?!?  Oh yeah.  I told you I had a very vivid imagination.  There was no stopping it!  I bet you’re wondering what my answer was. . . .I simply said, “I don’t remember” and went home to my parents with many questions.  Ahem, excuse me?  How can santa claus NOT be real?  I mean. . . .God is ALL-POWERFUL, darn it!  Santa claus could totally be REAL!!!!!!  But he is not.

So as our daughter grew older, I realized that I couldn’t do santa claus the way he is traditionally “done” because I just couldn’t lie.  I was in the middle of a great conflict.  On one hand, I wanted our daughter to experience the magic of santa claus, but on the other hand I didn’t want to tell her an ongoing lie for years on end.  I finally settled on a compromise because I am unable to completely let go of the wonderfulness of santa claus, but I also decided to not lie to my child about him.  After all, I am a distant cousin of Abraham Lincoln, and we all know. . . .he could NEVER tell a lie.  I come by it honestly.  No pun intended. . . .

This year we bought a book that tells the story about St. Nick.  If you don’t know the story/legend, you should read up on it.  There are many different accounts of St. Nick, but all of them point to a few similar traits.  St. Nick was a rich person.  He was a giving person.  And he was a Christian.  Those were all the traits that I wanted my daughter to know about St. Nick, or Santa Claus.  Every year we plan on talking about santa and how his giving spirit lives on.  We will give her a gift that represents Santa claus’ giving spirit.  We will still visit santa claus and have pictures taken.  We will enjoy a bit of the magic minus the deception.  We will watch the santa claus movies just like we watch movies about tinker bell and winnie the pooh.  The one thing I have found to be true is that the imagination of a child is not dependent on our involvement.  We don’t have to do a thing.  They will still pretend and have imaginations that amaze us!  I am sure she will still experience the “magic” of it all and will pretend he is real every once in a while.  That’s ok with us!

So why do we choose to avoid the elf?  It’s probably not the reason you’re expecting to hear.  Sure. . . we don’t want to deceive our daughter, making her think the elf is REALLY reporting to santa claus and REALLY coming alive at night.  But the truth is that we want to keep the main thing, the main thing (in the words of my wise mother).  Christmas is not about how well you trim your tree or how many kiddie crafts you can fit into a 24 hour period.  It is not about how mischievous your little elf is.  It is not about how well you pretend santa claus is real.  Christmas is about Jesus.  So every tradition we build into Christmas as a family will be strongly rooted in Christ.  I can find Christ in the story of St. Nick, but not so much in the Elf on the shelf.  So while it is totally a fun idea, and I commend those of you who participate in it, it is not a tradition for us.  And we are ok with that.  If it is a tradition you have chosen and you enjoy it, go for it!  Enjoy it, embrace it, and don’t let anyone make you feel guilty for your choice.  Just make sure it is a tradition that you want and it is not a tradition that you are pressured into because “everyone else is doing it”.  Make traditions with your children.  They are memories that will last a lifetime!


The Best Years of Your Life


After an exhausting day of being a mom, I was talking to my own mom on the phone.  My 3 yr old had worn me out emotionally and physically, and I was ready to flop on the ground and not move until morning.  My mom said, “someday you will look back and remember this as the best time of your life.”  Well of course I thought, “hmmm.  I hope NOT!”  I absolutely loved the early years of our marriage and my years of being a single 20-something with only my future dreams ahead of me.  I’m fairly certain that snot, puke, tantrums and poop have nothing to do with the best years of my life!  So being the analytical person that I am, I continued to think about that phrase for a few weeks.  “Are these really the best years of my life, and if they are, what exactly is the definition of ‘best’?”  See?  Just like I said: “analytical!”  Hang in there.  I think I’m on to something!

I am a true believer in perspective.  Whatever is going on in life can seem to be good or bad, but this is not because of the circumstance itself, but because of how we PERCEIVE it.  Recently a family friend said, “how we perceive the first snow of the winter will affect our mood for the entire season.”  Maybe those aren’t her exact words, but you get the jest.  Perception is reality!  My husband loves that phrase.  And it is so true.  If you have a preconceived notion about a restaurant because your friend loves it, that will indeed affect your perception of that restaurant.  Maybe you hate being a mother, and your negativity translates into the way you treat your child.  Or on the flip side:  you are a positive thinker, and you see the glass as half full.  This perspective greatly affects your happiness or contentment with life.  This is real life.  There are crummy times, and there are amazing times.  If Paul from the Bible can be content in all things (this guy was in prison!!!), then we can do it to!

So what about this word, “best”?  These years are the best years of your life!  Being my mom’s daughter for my entire life (it’s ok to laugh here), I know my mom’s true intention when she said this.  I know that she didn’t mean to say that everything is coming up roses & I should be grateful for the bountiful blessings God has bestowed upon me. .. . . .like spit up on my shirt and poop on my shoes. So what is “best” about the years of bearing children?  On a difficult day, this question is hard to answer.  I can’t see past the toddler tantrums or sharpie marker scribbled all over the walls.  But today I will tell you that the “best” is not about those little oopses as a parent.  The BEST is experiencing a love that is so deep that you cannot explain it in words, watching your spouse change from being terribly impatient to having more patience than you, imparting your wisdom into an impressionable little being, caring for someone who cannot care for themselves, understanding unconditional love, recognizing how much God really loves us. . . .I could go on and on.

What I realize now is that “best” doesn’t mean it is better in terms of good life vs. bad life.  To me, my best years are those where I grow the most.  And when I have the most growth, I have usually endured the most struggles.  These years are the best because they are challenging.  These years have brought out something in me that I didn’t know was there.  I am a more confident person because of my child.  I see life differently because I see it through her eyes.  Sometimes I am the student, and she is the teacher.  These years are best because my life is forever changed.

I still look back at my single years and newlywed years as some of the best years of my life because we had a blast!  We were carefree and did whatever we wanted to.  We were selfish and loved it.  But I’m sure when I am 80 years old and look back at my life, I will see these years of raising children as the best. .. . . .not because they were grandiose or always blissful.  But simply because these were the years that changed me forever and made me into a better person.

Defining the Ethical Christian Music Therapist

My “I” disclaimer: I have been a Christian most of my life. I have been a music therapist for 10 years. I have seen probably hundreds of clients and patients in my time. I have never overtly or knowingly evangelized to anyone I have worked with as a music therapist. I do pray (outside of therapy time) for my clients when they or their family asks me to and likewise if they asked me not to pray, I would honor their request.  I sing religious songs when they are requested, not only Christian songs, but others as well. Singing songs during therapy from non-Christian religions has never and will never upset or bother me–I am not there for me, but for my client. I am excited to work with anyone, no matter what age, race, gender, or religion. I do enjoy when I see a client with similar views/desires/ethnicity because we have a commonality that may allow me to better serve them with our shared understanding, although I make every attempt to understand clients who hold beliefs and ethnicities different from my own.  I always do my best not to treat my clients differently because of our differences or similarities.  I enjoy learning about other religions, sacraments, ethnicities and cultures. I don’t seek out Christian clients, but many of my clients do consider themselves to be and have disclosed that to me. I have never turned away any potential clients due to their beliefs or lifestyles that have differed from mine. I have no plans to advertise myself as a Christian music therapist online or in my advertisement materials. My Christian values (such as humility, fairness, honesty, love, patience, unconditional treatment toward others) guide my private practice morally and ethically.  I deeply care about all of my clients and patients regardless of their background or current religious practices.


When I published my blog titled, “Christian Music Therapist or Music Therapist Christian“, I knew it would prompt some controversy, and it did . But on the flip side, I also had many Christian and non-Christian music therapists respond with agreement to what I had written. What I wasn’t prepared for was the rapid questioning that occurred between some of my colleagues that sparked some serious dialogue  about ethics and religion as a therapist. Words like transference, countertransference and projection came up many times. I rather enjoy discussing difficult topics as long as both sides are fair and respectful. The long discussion maintained that spirit with only a few jabs in between. But overall, my colleagues were respectfully questioning the meaning behind some key points of my blog, and I did my best to answer their questions. After a week and over 350 comments later, I am emotionally tired and have stepped away from the online discussion.

I am here writing about the Christian music therapist again because I want to clear up any confusion that is coming from my previous blog. What I did not think about when I wrote it was how my wording would be perceived by readers from various backgrounds, including some who were also Christian. I only looked at it from my point of view, which is deeply rooted in Christianity. So to clarify some points for those who may be inquisitive about a few issues I brought up, I have listed selected portions from the code of ethics we must adhere to as music therapists as well as the topics we agreed upon during the online discussion. The bulleted topics as listed below have always been a part of my private practice as a music therapist. While some of the wording in my previous blog may have been vague and left questions in the minds of my colleagues, my hope is that the statements below will better explain who I am (and try to be) as a therapist. A music therapist always striving to be in line with our code of ethics.

Music Therapy Code of Ethics:

1.6 The MT respects the rights of others to hold values, attitudes, and opinions that differ from his/her own.

1.9 The MT practices with integrity, honesty, fairness, and respect for others.

2.3.1 The MT respects the social and moral expectations of the community in which he/she works. The MT is aware that standards of behavior are a personal matter as they are for other citizens, except as they may concern the fulfillment of professional duties or influence the public attitude and trust towards the profession.

2.3.2 The MT refuses to participate in activities that are illegal or inhumane, that violate the civil rights of others, or that discriminate against individuals based upon race, ethnicity, language, religion, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. In addition, the MT works to eliminate the effect of biases based on these factors on his or her work.

3.3 The MT will not discriminate in relationships with clients/students/research subjects because of race, ethnicity, language, religion, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status or political affiliation.

3.11 In those emerging areas of practice for which generally recognized standards are not yet defined, the MT will nevertheless utilize cautious judgment and will take reasonable steps to ensure the competence of his/her work, as well as to protect clients, students, and research subjects from harm.

Discussion Topics:

  • It is never ok to project your beliefs onto clients.  Evangelizing can be done inadvertently, so Christians (and other faiths) need to be aware of that tendency and either take this issue to supervision or closely guard how we are perceived by our clients.
  • As therapists, we need to create an atmosphere of openness and honesty to allow our clients to express themselves in a safe environment.
  • When a client asks a therapist about their religious affiliation, the therapist must be aware of the therapeutic value of that question/answer before answering.  Answering that question could affect the client’s level of comfort in therapy. In many instances, answering that question may have nothing to do with treatment and should be diverted without making the client feel slighted . In other instances,  answering that question could make the client more comfortable and support the therapeutic process. In addition, answering that question could be directly correlated with treatment if the goals are spiritually-related.
  • Our focus should ALWAYS be on the client’s thrapy process, not the therapist’s needs/desires.
  • Self-disclosure on the therapist’s part should only be practiced when it serves the client.  When a religious question comes up, invite the client to consider what the question is about for them before deciding to share. We should ask questions like:  Is it safe for my client for me to disclose?
  • It is important to bear in mind that not all people who share the same faith hold the same worldview.
  • SEEK SUPERVISION!  This is of great importance, especially for those music therapists who are in private practice and/or work at a facility as the only music therapist.
  • Tolerance and Acceptance are not the same.
    The definition of the word tolerate is:

    1. Allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.
    2. Accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.

    Acceptance is a different animal.  Another word that can be used interchangeably with acceptance is approval, which has a better definition that applies to our topic:

    1. The action of officially agreeing to something or accepting something as satisfactory.
    2. The belief that someone or something is good or acceptable.

    We must be accepting of our clients, knowing that it is not our job to use our beliefs to change them through therapy unless our beliefs happen to be a part of the goal our client is working toward.   This does not mean we should accept everything about our clients, though. They are coming to us with a problem and are wanting to elicit change in a positive direction. Like always, we need to be aware of these dynamics and whether we are tolerating or accepting our clients. In that case, we still need to be mindful, maybe even MORE mindful of the impact of our beliefs. This goes back to the statement made previously: “Our focus should ALWAYS be on the client’s therapy process, not the therapist’s needs/desires.”

  • What we say is who we are perceived to be.  Be careful what you choose to share with other colleagues, clients and the world.
  • What are the implications of this type of self-disclosure (ex., writing a blog about Christianity as a music therapist)?  We have to consider who may read it.  Current clients?  Colleagues?  Potential clients?  After answering that question, we need to individually assess whether this self-disclosure is appropriate for the work we do and whether it is appropriate to disclose our religious affiliation when coupled with our career.

In closing, we as music therapists have an obligation to treat our clients with the utmost respect and acceptance.  They are looking to us for help.  It is our duty to serve these clients without letting our own issues get in the way.  We should always be prepared for uncomfortable questions during therapy.  They do happen often.  When difficult and uncomfortable questions arise (about religion, personal beliefs, personal life), it is our responsibility to take a step back, ask why the answer may be pertinent to the therapeutic experience and then proceed with a professional response applicable to the client’s needs and goals.  Due to the nature of music therapy, our responses will vary.  Our settings, situations, goals and clients are all unique.  This is part of what makes music therapy so interesting.  So go out, be professional and don’t be afraid of questions that are related to religion or alternative lifestyles or politics. . . .your answers will be as unique as your clients.

Excerpt from the online discussion with other music therapists:  “The purpose of my initial blog was to look at another idea within therapy, not to put music therapists in a box. There are many facets and methods and ways to be a music therapist. There are many facets and methods and ways to observe our clients. . . .Observance gives me a slice of their life.”  –Valerie Kocel

The Christian Music Therapist or the Music Therapist Christian?


Which one is it?  Should we be music therapists who practice Christianity on the side or  music therapists who use our Christianity in our practice?  It is a question that has come up time and time again in my 11 years as a music therapist.

Yes, you may safely assume that I am a Christian.  Most people know that I am a Christian because it is not something I hide because it’s politically correct to do so.  It is who I am, and I am not ashamed.  There is a fine line between letting people know who you are and shoving your lifestyle in their face to encourage their conversion.  I will always use my Christian “traits” in my practice.  I make an effort to be kind hearted, generous, loving, patient, and forgiving.  That is the least we should do.  But is it ethically ok to do more than this?  Yes and no.

As a music therapist, especially as a student, we were told to be very careful when dealing with our faith and the faith of our clients/patients.  I remember being afraid to ever bring it up.  I remember being terrified when a client brought it up!  “OH NO! Heaven forbid!  I don’t want to talk about Jesus!!!!”  The reality is, I DID want to talk about Jesus.

When I taught music at an elementary school for a very short time, we were allowed to bring up our faith if the student asked about it, but otherwise, be quiet.  I didn’t want to have a Bible study at the school or anything, but I didn’t want to be afraid to say that I believed in God or Jesus.  Oh how many times those kids brought God into the conversation!!!!  I struggled with this for years because I was not just a music therapist who was a Christian on the side.  I am a Christian music therapist.  I cannot hide my faith anymore than I can hide the fact that I am a woman.  So where do we find a balance without compromising our ethics?

This may be controversial to some, but we need to stop being afraid of who we are.  Whether you are a Christian or believe in something else, that is who you are.  That being said, I wouldn’t advise going into a session with a new client and saying, “Hi there.  I am Valerie, your Christian music therapist.  Let’s talk about Jesus.”  But I do encourage you be yourself.  I’m not saying to sneakily insert “God” and “Jesus” into every session just because.  It’s more than that.  We need to stop being afraid.  Don’t be afraid to say, “God or Jesus” if the topic comes up.  For example, a question that comes up frequently for me is, “how did you decide to become a music therapist?”  Well, that creates a problem right there if we are supposed to refrain from talking about our faith.  I became a music therapist because of a “God thing.”  So in a situation like that, I tell my clients that it was a God thing.  I try to keep it simple and not give too many details.  If they want to ask for more, then I welcome that.  And if not, I never pressure them any further.  You certainly need to respect their religion or lack thereof.

A good way to gauge your clients’ faith and beliefs is to look around.  Many times you can find clues if you are visually observant.  Look at their artwork.  Are there pictures of Jesus, Mary or Buddah?  Listen to how they speak.  Ask what type of music they listen to.  You can also include this topic in your assessment of music preferences.  I have a line that asks if they like religious/Christian music or would prefer to opt out.  I have never had a client opt out!  You can learn more about your clients by using your observation skills!

Nearly all of my clients over the past decade have been Christians.  Isn’t that incredible?  I didn’t find this out because I asked them point blank.  I didn’t find out because I hid my beliefs.  I found out because I was real with them.  And they could tell something about me was different.  Most of them asked me if I was a Christian.  It is always a good feeling when someone notices.  That means I am doing my job to be Christ in the flesh.  I realize that some who read this are not Christians.  You may be Buddist or Muslim or something else.  I say the same to you.  Be yourself.  You may not be liked or accepted, but if it is important to you, then you should let it out no matter what the outcome is! (while staying within your ethical boundaries, of course!)


What does saved mean?

Someone just recently asked me the question, “What does saved mean?” To those of us who grew up as Christians, that seems so simple. But to someone who never heard of it growing up. . .it’s probably the hardest thing in the world to explain. That question has prompted me to post the answer on my page. I think it’s that important. Being saved is a choice, a lifelong commitment, an afterlife commitment & a gift from Christ. Christ died on the cross & shed his blood because we sinned. Since the time of Adam & Eve, a sacrifice was required to cover the sins they committed. After they ate the apple, God made them clothes from animal skins. In order for those clothes to be made, an animal had to die. For many, many years, people went to the temple & sacrificed an unblemished animal. An innocent lamb. When Christ came, he became that perfect innocent lamb. He shed his blood & died so he could cover all of our sins. We no longer go to the temple to sacrifice an animal. We go to Christ. And no, the Jews were NOT the ones to kill Christ, it was the Romans, so please don’t send me hate mail that talks about anti-semitism because I’m not one.
Back on track–To be saved is to admit that Christ is Lord over your life, to believe that He died for your sins & that He was indeed raised from death to life. Getting saved isn’t the action of being baptized. Getting saved isn’t an event. It’s a lifestyle. So why baptism? Because it’s our public profession of faith in Christ. We are telling everyone that we are saved. Our sin is buried & then we’re raised to a new life. Just like Christ was. He took on all of our sins while on the cross & those were buried. Once and for all. He was raised later to walk in newness of life. Wow. What a story. What a life. How easy. If you think this is difficult to have, think again. All you have to do is pray to God to forgive your sins, to say you want Him to be over your life, tell Him you believe Christ was raised from the dead. And you know what, you too can share eternity with Christ. That doesn’t come from being baptized, christined, confirmed or confessing to a priest. It comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ himself. And all you have to do is ask. If you don’t believe me, find a Bible and start reading in Romans. You’ll see it. If you don’t have a Bible, go to http://www.crosswalk.com