Monday, 29 January 2018

The things students do to protect their sense of self.

My dog ate my homework.

I have been thinking a lot about defensiveness lately and I see it a lot in students.
I applied to be a Music Therapist and they said, during the interview, that Music Therapy is based on the works of Freud. I decided not to pursue Music Therapy because - at the time - I thought that practises based on Freud would be "quack". I wonder what a free association on the word "Freud" would bring up.
On one hand Freud was the Doctor who thought that smoking Cigars and taking Cocaine was a good idea: on the other, Freud got us talking. In asking, "How do you feel about your dreams?" Freud did something that had never been done: guided the client to self realisation. My music lessons have been described as, "Guided self discovery", so I don't suppose I can disagree with Freud on this one.
Sigmund Freud - and latterly Anna Freud - demonstrate how we defend ourselves. If you were attacked, you would defend yourself, surely. When a Teacher shows us that we have not understood something, we feel attacked.  It is the Teacher's job to understand when the Student is communicating defensively. 
I have not yet found an exhaustive list of defenses. Here are some that I have found so far:
Regression: It's your fault and you should fix it.
Reaction Formation:Forming an alter ego.
Denial: That didn't happen/I didn't want it anyway.
Projection: I'll say that you think what I really think of myself.
Displacement: Kicking the dog.
Identification with the aggressor: I deserve their meanness.
Rationalisation: He wasn't a good boyfriend anyway.
Intellectualisation: If I read this, that won't bother me.
Sublimation: Making Art to process pain.
Sublimation is a problematic one for Music Teachers: on one hand it would be great to be a Therapist to the Stars, but that would mean there was no Art. While I wouldn't want anyone to be hiding from what's troubling them, creating Art is a good thing. Maybe it is best to say at the moment is: play music as part of a process of working out the thing that's bugging you: don't stay there.
Intellectualisation is similarly problematic. Learning is a good thing. Working hard is a good thing. Throwing oneself into work, as a defense of the sense of self is not actually solving the problem.
Rationalisation is not great either. "He wasn't a good boyfriend" does defend the sense of self. "Failing that interview is good! You didn't want that job anyway", is not the same as, "You hurt. That thing that was good is gone and that must hurt. I am here for you".
While Sublimation, Intellectualisation and Rationalisation have positive points, the other defense mechanisms are plain destructive.
We have a high opinion of ourselves. If something threatens our sense of us being the best, we will lie, block and behave like children to defend ourselves. That's not good.
As a Teacher, I have experienced, "The dog ate my homework", "My teachers should have handled me better", "I didn't read my homework", "You think I'm a bad student and that's why I don't try", "The reason I'm shouting at my younger Sibling has nothing to do with exam stress!"?
The irony is that students needn't be defensive. The first thing I learned in Teacher Training was to ask questions to find what the student doesn't know, in order to help. I wonder that Teachers pass this message on to students.
I am purposeful in reminding students that a question is designed to find what I can help them. While clearly staying away from the Therapist's role, I do observe student showing defensive mechanisms and I guide the Student to a place of learning where they don't need to defend themselves.
What are your thoughts? Do you think Freud is too heavy handed, or does he have something to offer the Learning and Teaching Interaction?

Robin's Experience and Style

Robin Thornton - Teacher At a young age, I decided that I wanted to be a Musician. I did not believe that I could support...