Mechelle Chestnut, MA, MT-BC, LCAT, is a music therapist and psychotherapist in New York City. She received her master’s in music therapy from New York University and completed post-graduate training in Vocal Psychotherapy and Depth Psychology at the Music Psychotherapy Center of New York in addition to Music and Imagery training at the Institute for Consciousness and Music at Anna Maria College. In addition to her outreach work at Brooklyn Queens Conservatory of Music, in her psychotherapy practice she serves adults having difficulties with transitions in relationships, work, and home life including transitioning from difficult or traumatic events back into everyday life.
Mechelle Chestnut has also coordinated programming throughout her career. While a music therapist at the Jersey City Public Schools, for five years she served as the Coordinator for the school’s Intervention and Referral Services Committee, a school-wide multidisciplinary committee addressing the needs of general education students. She is Coordinator for the Music Psychotherapy Center of New York.
Mechelle is a classically trained violist as well as a songwriter and vocalist. She has toured internationally playing music and has played in prestigious halls and venues in the United States and around the world.
Lastly, Mechelle is a wife and mother to a brave little girl.
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Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into Psychotherapy? And then specifically how your path led you to focus primarily on creative mothers?
I got into psychotherapy through my relationship with music. I loved it and I was really good at it in my childhood and adolescence. But there were a series of life events that interrupted all of this, leading me to feel disconnected from music, feeling unable to get better at playing the viola and unwilling to work at it. It seemed like music used to be this thing in the palm of my hand that I could hold and control; but that suddenly had become ether slipping through my fingers, vanishing. This was such a strange experience for me and actually was a serious loss that I experienced as trauma.
Practically speaking, after college I tried on various hats as a musician—gigging, administration, teaching, coaching. But none of those hats fit. So I learned about music therapy, saw some of the work and decided I could and wanted to help people through music. I studied music therapy at NYU and during that time I began really looking at my relationship to music and I began healing that wound and I began healing my Self. The healing of my creative wounds would go on beyond grad school and into my own music psychotherapy treatment and, ultimately, into me rediscovering and living as the musician I really am. And with that experience, seeing that I could get my Self back, I wanted to help others get their Selves back through music psychotherapy. After having my daughter, it became really important to me to make psychotherapy accessible to expectant and new moms. I saw that even on a good day with a newborn, it can be hard to get out of the house! And I just imagined moms struggling with a prenatal or postpartum mood or anxiety disorder alone, unable to get out of the house, and I just wanted to reach out to them and give them the opportunity to heal from an issue that is totally treatable. I love working with creative moms (even those beyond early childhood rearing) to support them to really know themselves, their purpose in life, and help them cultivate the mindset, commitment and discipline to achieving what they want. Women are an incredible source of creativity (in fact, the source: we give birth!). And since in this country women are still pulling more weight at home and earning less than men, I want to support them to be the people who are living, creating, and leading courageously and honestly.
Can you tell us little about what issues many moms to you with and how you are able to help them rekindle their creativity?
Expectant and new moms come to me with a host of issues. Many moms come to me because they are having very strong feelings (such as anger, sadness or depression) that they can’t seem to get a hold of. I first work to help these moms make small changes to their mindset and daily actions to regain a sense of control over their lives, to feel less controlled by the strong emotions. Then I work with mom to rediscover, remind, and reinforce her strengths and inner resources that she can draw upon anytime, anywhere. At this stage, my clients have gotten their feet back on the ground, they experience a decrease in symptoms and can now steer their own ship, rather than being steered by anger or depression. It’s this point in healing that these moms can then see choices more clearly, can get a sense of their vision for their lives, and then construct a plan of action to manifest their vision, goals and ideals. And of course, that is where creativity really comes in to play. A client can draw upon her inner resources for strength and a sense of safety, combining with her unique style and talents, to master a skill or project or position while moving toward the vision of her personal, artistic, and professional lives.
Can you explain a little bit about the nuts and bolts on how creativity works to help with an emotional issues?
Creativity can be a double-edged sword for some folks. It can seem like this magical space to be in—the creative space—with freedom and actualizing oneself. But it can also seem like a free-for-all with no boundaries, no guarantees, no safety net or no future. But there is a time and a space for creativity to help with emotional issues. Firstly, working in a creative art form (such as painting, drawing, writing/playing/singing songs, dancing) can be done as a hobby or experience that is purely for fun. It can be this activity that we engage in to be totally free of worries of our lives, to be utterly present to the experience in the art. That’s so enjoyable because we can just get a break from what ever is bothering us. For the people who are trying or who are making a living from their creativity or identify as artists or creative business people, where there is money and livelihood and responsibility tied into the relationship with the art, feelings and thoughts can get complicated if we get off our mindset game. I think creatives can have the most impact when we dedicate our mindsets for growth, proceed boldly and unapologetically with marketing and business, and, by extension, learn how to manage well the business and marketing aspects of being a creative person in a creative business or position. There are so many examples of artists of all kinds who seem to have the most boring lives when you see their mundane, repetitious schedules day in and day out. But they show up to do their art.
During the showing up process of the artist’s life or even for those in a hobby, deciding to be completely honest with one’s feelings and thoughts and letting that go directly into the art can be exhilarating, liberating of the pressure of the issue, and productive. Having a space, a healthy creative act to receive our raw feelings and creativity wrapped together can be so safe. It can also make us look at the issue head on which can be hard. But seeing what’s there is essential to moving past it. And if we can trust the art form we are engaged in, if it is a proper place to express our rawness, if we can feel safe with the medium, then we can let ourselves go.
What’s the part of your work that you love the most, what do you love the least?
I completely love seeing people transform into being the person they have always wanted to be and in turn living the life they’ve always wanted to live. It’s thrilling to see people move from surviving to thriving. What do I love the least? Tough to say…the learning curve on anything outside of the therapy session is big for me and it can burn sometimes, but I do actually love the challenge of being a business person.
How has being a mother transformed your work?
I feel even more compassion and empathy for my clients than I did before my daughter. I think this has lead me to move in paradoxical ways: to take more time going combing through the details of one’s experiences and feelings while also making even more focused time and efforts in creating actionable goals for change.
How has being a mother changed your prospective on your career?
Being a mom has really amped up my game. I simply make time and energy for the people, places, and things that are important to me and that enhance my life and the health of my family. I have even more focus, drive, and motivation to become a better psychotherapist, leader, and business person than ever before.
Do you have any tips on how a mom can stay creative despite the rigors of being a parent?
Yes! Here are a few:
ask yourself everyday what it is you want. ask yourself this before meditating. Or write the question “what do I want?” in your journal and see what comes out.
Ask yourself at your busiest, “What do I need right now?” It’s like asking someone, “How can I help you?”
Listen to your inner voice! No matter how silly, unpractical, expensive, or out-of-reach something sounds, do not judge it. Do not cast it aside. Just listen to your inner voice and write it down and reread the message you are trying to give yourself
To refocus your energy, money, and time (especially if you consider your actions impulsive), when you ever feel compelled to buy more, spend more, eat more, do more even though you kinda know it’s not really good for you or your family, then just pause and remind yourself that you are ok, you’re safe, there’s plenty of time, money, clothes, shoes, and food and you will not miss the deal. There is plenty for you even if you don’t get it right this very second. Then walk away.
What is 1 tool you’ve found particular useful in managing your work/life balance?
Well…one approach is that I stop trying to make myself balanced. I try to remain clear about my priorities, values and goals and take actions based on that! Practically speaking, the Getting Things Done method for organizing and processing info has made being a multi-faceted person and mom more manageable.
Can you share any activities you do with your kid(s) to help them become more creative?
My daughter is 2. So we play and sing songs on various instruments, sometimes adding new lyrics to songs we already know. We dance to all kinds of music including pop, gospel, classical Indian, and classical music. We make and create decorations for her room. And we give her opportunities to direct music, art, movement, or other activities so she can experience a bigger sense of creative power (but she knows I’m still the mommy!).
Fill In The Blank
If I were stranded on a desert island with 3 things (not people), they would be a swiss army knife, a net, and a blanket.
My current pet peeve is people cutting their finger nails on the subway.
A famous person (alive or dead) that I would like to meet Kristen Anderson-Lopez, co-writer of the songs from Frozen.
My greatest strength is my inner voice.