From Rock and Roll Musician to Psychotherapist (How I Got From There to Here)

A reflection blog by one of our amazing clinical interns:         

           As far back as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a professional musician. My father and my grandfather were both professional musicians and I was bitten by the bug very early on. My father played The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” record around the house when I was very young and I loved it. I have vivid memories of running in circles around the coffee table while it played on our turntable. I started playing guitar when I was eight years old. I took lessons and became pretty good early on. I played my very first public performance at a coffeehouse when I was thirteen years old. Two years later, I joined a more established cover band with a bunch of guys who were older than me and played my first gig in a nightclub when I was fifteen years old. Halfway through the third song, I guy walked up to the front of the stage, pulled out a pistol, and then shot our drummer in the shoulder. After the police and paramedics came, I remember thinking to myself, “I’M GOING TO DO THIS FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!!!!!” As it became more and more obvious that playing music was all I cared about, my parents made a deal with me; if I could keep a 4.0 grade point average, I could play in bands as much as I wanted. By the time I was a senior in high school, I maintained a 4.0 grade point average and I was playing music professionally three to five nights per week. This was to set the stage for the rest of my early adult life.

                My first college experience was a complete disaster. I did not want to be there. I only went out of a sense of guilt in order to please my parents. In retrospect, I should have moved to Los Angeles in order to play music when I first graduated high school. Instead, I stayed in my hometown and went to college for three years. In that time, I changed my major seven times and lived on academic probation while continuing to play music professionally. After three unsuccessful years of college, I finally dropped out to pursue music full time. With any career in the arts, whether it be music, dance, visual art, etc., there is a very thin veil between surplus and deficit, meaning that one has to work a “day job” in order to support themselves. Over the years, I worked many ridiculous jobs, all of which taught me a great deal about what I do not ever want to do with my life. Most were in the service industry. 

                In 1996, I finally moved away from my hometown with a rock band. I supported myself by waiting tables and bartending while playing gigs. This holding pattern continued until 2003. During that time, I worked at several different restaurants and bars, for no other reason than to pay my bills while I pursued a music career. (In retrospect, working in the service industry was invaluable to my training as a psychotherapist.) In 2003, however, I had to leave restaurant/bar work. By this time, my alcoholism was out of control and I decided to get sober. In doing that, I knew that I needed to leave the lifestyle of working in the food and beverage industry. By sheer luck, I managed to get a job at a large musical instrument store. I started apprenticing under a piano tuner and within a year I was earning my living as a piano tuner/technician while playing music.

                My band got a record deal in 2006. This propelled my music career in terms of having something tangible to work on. Because the music store where I worked was flexible, I was able to take leaves of absence in order to go on tour to promote the band. The next several years were spent touring around the country in a van with my band mates. We would go out on the road for several weeks at a time and then return home to our various day jobs. I continued tuning and repairing pianos whenever I was home. As far as touring and playing music went, we never made much money. We certainly never made enough money to be able to quit our day jobs. Touring was hard. We would leave and come home essentially broke. The older I became, the worse that started to feel. I also found that working so hard to make music viable as a business was starting to kill the creative aspect of it. That was a difficult pill to swallow. Still, we kept on and kept working at it for several more years.

                In 2010, our record deal ended. All of a sudden, we had no real safety net. By this time, we had all become a bit disillusioned by the whole music industry and we were bitter. For me, I realized that I was approaching the end of my thirties and that I was tired. I was tired of working so hard for what felt like no return. I loved being a musician in the artistic sense, but I was growing increasingly tired of not knowing whether or not I would be able to make rent each month. It was at this point that I decided to make a very large life shift.

                Back in 2003, I had entered into psychoanalysis in order to work on issues surrounding my alcoholism and the uncertainty of a life in the arts. I continued in analysis all the years that I was playing music. I found it to be incredibly helpful in my life. Furthermore, my analyst had become something of a mentor to me. So in 2010, I made the decision to leave the music industry in order to return to school and eventually become a psychotherapist. This was an enormous shift for me to make. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. First, I had to return to college to finish my bachelor degree. Then I had to find a graduate program that fit what I wanted to do. I did both of those things. I finished my degree in two years.

                After finishing my bachelor degree, I got accepted to Manhattan College’s Mental Health Counseling Program. I moved to New York City in the spring of 2012 and started my graduate program at Manhattan College in the fall of 2012. This has been a profound life shift for me in the sense that I am in a brand new city with a brand new career path. I am currently supporting myself by a return to piano tuning. I freelance as a piano tuner/technician while going to school full-time.

                In the great scheme of things, I am happy with my decision to make the switch from professional musician to psychotherapist. As my clinical internship thickens, I feel better and better about the choice that I have made. This is a career path where, if I choose, I will get to tell the truth every single day. There is something about that aspect of the career that is very appealing to me. It is also a career in which no one will ever force me to retire. Yes, I do miss playing music on a more regular basis, but that is something that I do still cultivate in my life. After I left music as a career, I put together a band to play film score music that I had written over the years. We ended up making a record of that material and it was the fist time that I really did not care if anyone liked the finished product or not. Subsequently, it was the most fulfilling artistic endeavor that I had done in years. By that, I mean that I was free artistically to do what I wanted without having to worry about whether or not it would sell. There was something very special about that and it was only possible because I had decided to change careers.

                I learned a great deal about human nature from working in the music industry and that knowledge will go with me into a career as a psychotherapist. Over the Winter break, I had a session with my old analyst. He told me that the bulk of my psychotherapy training already happened within my music career. I understand what he meant. Any career in the arts teaches you a great deal about human nature, emotion, and heart. Right now I am in my internship and I feel like I am doing actual meaningful work. That feels really great. Adulthood isn’t so bad after all.