Music Therapy by Bethany Squires
Bethany Squires and I met a little over two years ago through a mutual friend when she moved from Minneapolis to Chicago to begin working as a Music Therapist. For the past couple of years, we've witnessed Bethany fall in love with Chicago. And for the past year, we've been ministered by her in our church's balcony as she's stepped into leading worship.
When you meet Bethany, you're immediately at ease. She is a true old soul; not to mention calm, kind, unabashedly silly, and finds the glimmers of beauty in this city and beyond. My husband Andrew and I visited her in her apartment in Pilsen on a blustery and cool June evening to capture a bit of her songwriting process and to hear about her faith journey. We were blessed (for real) to film her on her beloved rooftop singing one of the songs she recently penned.
Tell us how you ended up in Chicago?
A friend of mine from undergrad had a connection to another music therapist at the psychiatric hospital where I now work, and heard about an opening they had for another music therapist to work with adolescents, which was essentially my dream job. On a whim I decided to apply for the incredibly part-time position that would only guarantee me 32 hours a month, and within 7 weeks I interviewed, was offered and accepted the position, and uprooted from Minneapolis to move to Chicago. Certainly not the safest life choice I've ever made, but I felt peace that it was the right decision, so I jumped anyway. I laugh every time I think about it, because I had told the same friend only a couple of months prior that I would "never live in Chicago. It's big, dirty, and gross." It definitely was not on my long-term plan radar, but I love it now and feel continually more like this will be where I end up putting down roots.
What led you to Music Therapy as a career choice?
Music was a deep part of my life growing up, it feels as essential and natural to me as breathing, it's how I externalize a lot of my internal processing, how I channel, release, and regain energy. My heart and my passion has always been to work in mental health, and I thought about getting a traditional counseling degree for awhile, but working in a career that was not somehow music-centered felt like a non-option to me.
"A family friend told me about music therapy & it just clicked for me, it would give me the opportunity to work with a population that I felt strongly about, all while using music to bring hope & healing."
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
It feels almost impossible to describe, but there are these moments in sessions when the music, the patients, myself, and the relationships between each of those unique things settle and create a beautiful space for peace, healing, growth, and restoration. Sometimes that looks like working with a group of kids who have been resistant to treatment and through doing music improvisation together, I can see and hear a shift in their willingness to engage, and then we become able to process together. Other times it's seemingly simple things, such as working with patients in the throes of major depression and watching them almost come to life during the music, and hearing them say that it was the first time they've smiled or felt joy in months. Knowing that even if things aren't completely whole or healed yet, I am able to witness and help give voice to the fact that healing and change are happening, and I get to be a small part in that process. Those are the moments that bring me back on the tough days.
Seeing the wear and tear of the struggle with mental illness can be draining, especially seeing the same patients come back multiple times and mustering up hope and courage for them when they have run out of their own. It is beautiful and necessary work, but it definitely can be heavy sometimes when you hear other people's stories and the pain many of them have been through. Being intentional about self-care is a balance I'm always learning about, so that I can feel refreshed and have enough energy to be able to give my all during my work days.
Over the past few months, you’ve been writing your own songs even though you haven’t necessarily considered yourself a songwriter. Can you explain where those words are coming from, and more specifically, how this was prophesied over you years ago?
When I was growing up worship through music was the way I felt most connected to God, but through some wounding experiences I had at the church I grew up in and throughout music school I lost a lot of the joy and meaning that I had found previously in worship, and honestly dreaded it for awhile. About five years ago I was in the thick of wrestling with God about a lot of those wounds, as well as some relational stuff and struggles with the church, and while I was on a trip in California I was praying one night and told God I wanted a direct answer about my questions. Within about 10 minutes a friend and I ended up chatting with a random guy on the beach, and he started speaking to me specifically about the things I had just been praying about, and he prayed over us.
"During that time, he spoke to me about being a worshipper & told me that I needed to start listening because God was going to give me songs to write."
At that point I could barely even look at a piano or guitar, and had no desire to even consider writing or creating anything for the purpose of worship.
The last five years have been a slow healing process, in which God has been restoring my joy in music and bringing that desire for worship back into my life. At the end of December I felt a pull to start praying and asking for God to speak to me in songs, and He's been answering that prayer. It's been really beautiful to experience Him in that way, it just reminds me over and over again of how gracious He is in giving Himself to us when we are seeking to listen and make space for His voice. For me He often begins speaking through conversations with friends, or during our prayer hour before church, and I find that as the songs come they solidify and tie together the themes He's been revealing during that time frame.
You’ve been sharing new original music during Worship at Missio Dei Wrigleyville. Can you describe what the process has been like for you.
A lot of it has been learning to trust, specifically that God can and is speaking through me and these songs He's given to me, that I am creative and capable of using my giftings to make things that are worth keeping and sharing. I tend to be an internal processor, and so vulnerability has been a huge part of it too, being willing to share these things that are still in process and allow people to know those parts of my life and spiritual journey that usually are only shared with a handful of close friends.
Was your song “You Satisfy” (featured above) born out of a particular passage of scripture?
There are a few different passages that shaped "You Satisfy." Portions of Psalm 23, Zephaniah 3:17, and Psalm 16 all show up at different points in the song. This particular song was written just after Advent ended, and so a lot of what I was processing at the time was about the presence of God, and how the fact that He is Immanuel (God with us) absolutely changes everything about our lives. You Satisfy ended up being a prayer, just voicing that desire to be in His presence, to know His fullness, and the desire for the restoration to wholeness that can only come from truly knowing and experiencing Him.
Is there a passage that has been resonating with you more deeply this season?
For the past year or so I've been frequently coming back to Psalm 23, particularly verses 2&3.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still water. He restores my soul."
Growing up in the church this Psalm was one of the first that I remember memorizing as a child, but it hasn't been until more recently that it's held a lot of meaning or that I understood much of what it means in my life. The last sentence especially has felt like such a deep reality to me, as I've been so tangibly experiencing God's healing and restoration so much specifically in the last year. It also is a refresher for me on the days when I'm feeling like I've been completely poured out and have nothing left to offer, that He restores my soul, He refills me, that anything I have to give comes first from His tender leading.
What would you like to share with readers today?
Most days can be made substantially better by having a cup of freshly roasted coffee in a beautifully made mug. Seriously. I have a little bit of a reputation with my coworkers because I love making my coffee at home, bringing it to the hospital in an old plaid Thermos, and then transferring it to one of the mugs in my slowly growing handmade mug collection. It sounds totally dorky, but the whole sensory piece of holding a visually pleasing mug that's shaped perfectly for my hands—which also happens to hold delicious smelling and tasting black coffee—is a complete game-changer for me. Also I don't think I realized quite how passionately I felt about this until I started writing about it, haha!
What are you listening to these days?
So much Gregory Alan Isakov, his songs gets me every time. I listen to his stuff when I'm feeling burnt out and need to remember why I love music, and why I've chosen to make music part of every single aspect of my life. His lyrics are beautifully poetic, and musically he's so creative, it blows me away. I'm a little obsessed.
You can follow along with Bethany's adventures on her insta.
P.S. Andrew and I are huge Gregory fans as well. ;)