MT Interventions- The Bucket Theory

Hello friends!

In March, I had an amazing opportunity to attend the Midwestern Regional Music Therapy Conference, and I think I learned more in those four days than I have in my entire life (isn’t that always how those things are?!). There were so many amazing lectures on interventions, song ideas, techniques for maintaining a compassionate mindset, and incredible neuroscience discoveries. One of the lectures that I particularly enjoyed was on this concept called the Bucket Theory.  It is extremely useful when working with children, which I appreciated because that is my long term career goal. However, my music therapy comrades and I found that it was a convenient way to keep track of our 19 year old emotions as well. 😉

Here’s what the bucket theory entails!

Everyone has a bucket; what you love the most in this world is what fills your bucket, and what you personally dislike is what empties it. For example, I love coffee, cats, and laughing with people… those are a few things that fill my bucket! I personally don’t like when people waste my time, or when I have to say goodbye to someone; those are things that empty my bucket. When you have a full bucket, you are feeling happy, productive, purposeful, and full of energy. When you have an empty bucket, you are feeling drained, discouraged, worn down, or helpless. As humans who are constantly interacting with one another, we all have dippers for these buckets, meaning… we are capable of filling and emptying the buckets of others.

The thing I love about this visualization (even though it is a bit cheesy and intended for little kids) is it allows you to be accountable for your emotions and the emotions of others. After a long week, sometimes it’s good to examine how full or empty your bucket is to determine if you really need to stay in for the night and rejuvenate yourself, or go out with friends and have a good time. Especially as a therapist, it is impossible to fill the bucket of someone else when your bucket is empty; therefore, knowing where you are at on the self-care scale is a very crucial element to caring for others. I also love this theory because it holds you accountable for how you treat those you associate with! It leaves you wondering if you are someone who brings people up, or tears them down, because at the end of the day… we all have the choice and the opportunity to do the former or the ladder. Do others feel refreshed and at peace after having a conversation with you? Or do you leave them in a worse mood than they were originally in after spending time with you. It makes you consider certain elements of your interactions; how often are the things that come out of your mouth positive or negative? (is it the golden 9:1 ratio as my mother calls it?) Or how is your tone of voice, your eye contact, your smile, your ability to listen with an open heart? These are all aspects of communication that have immense power in regard to filling or emptying the buckets of others.

As a prospective therapist, there are really amazing musical and therapeutic implications that come with using a strategy like this. For example, the bucket of your client can be the “check-in” point at the start of every session: How full is your bucket? What filled it today? Is it more empty then usual? Why do you think that is?

This lets your client reflect on their actions or the actions of others and how that made them feel (because often times, if our bucket is being emptied, it might be something that we did/caused!) This then opens up an opportunity for music to be created, especially in an expressive or improvisational manner. The therapist can either play something that evokes the emotion that the client is expressing, or they can allow the client to create the emotion they are feeling through music. There are countless ways you can do this; through music listening, playing, improvising, or composing a piece together. This can also address any other goal area you may have for your client; communication, being in touch with emotions, stress reduction, anger management, behavior control, etc. There are honestly countless ways to utilize the bucket visualization within a therapeutic OR educational setting, it’s honestly mind blowing! (yes Music Ed majors, I am talking to you TOO! <3)

Those were just a few things that I found particularly enlightening about the bucket theory. The woman who gave this presentation also included five strategies for bucket filling that I thought were very useful to keep in mind. Just good food for thought all around 🙂

How to Fill Buckets: 

  1. Prevent Bucket Dipping
    • Reduce negativity, complaining, or emptying someone else’s bucket to fill your own.
    • Also…no long handed handles! Meaning, don’t act behind the backs of others or hide behind a screen to prevent in-person bucket dipping. 
  2. Shine a light on what is RIGHT!
    • Every time you fill a bucket, you are enabling others to fill more buckets. (kindness is a ripple with no logical end!)
    • Accept bucket filling from others (GRATITUDE!)
  3. Make close connections
    • Let people know you appreciate them and care about them.
    • Listen to them with unconditional positive regard, accept them, and see them for who they are.
    • Have positive interactions with strangers.
  4. Give unexpectedly
    • Giving doesn’t have to be tangible… giving someone your trust can be the most valuable of gifts. 
    • Complimenting, bringing people UP in a genuine manner. 
  5. Reverse the Golden Rule
    • Treat others how THEY want to be treated, not how YOU want to be treated. (I thought this one was particularly fascinating- I have been living by the Golden Rule my entire life without realizing that it tends to my personal preferences and not the preferences of others!)

So after giving this a read, what fills YOUR bucket? What empties it? Knowing these things about yourself not only allows you to treat yourself and others better, but it gives you valuable insight onto the unique person that you are! After hearing this lecture, I actually sat down and wrote out what fills and empties my bucket, and it has helped me immensely in simply understanding myself. Just for kicks, here is my personal bucket…

Inside… (things that make me happy!) 

  • Music, good/healthy food, sleep, cats, laughing, coffee, jazz, journaling, feeling close to people, meaningful/intellectual conversations, smiling, scenic drives, mountains, acquisition of knowledge (research, Ted Talks, etc.) hiking, being outside, getting exercise, coloring/painting, compassion, compliments, composing music, singing and playing guitar, my inspiring professors, teaching, and KIDS.

Outside…(things that I do NOT appreciate) 

  • Going through my day with no coffee, being hungry/eating unhealthy food, dehydration, complaining and excessive negativity from myself and others, people wasting my time, people not listening when I’m talking, saying goodbye to others, being unproductive, feeling inadequate at my interests, anxiety/stress, not living in the present, not giving enough thanks for what I have, and watching discrimination take place before my eyes. 

I hope this post got the mental juices flowing in any way that is unique to you!

Keep filling buckets!

Love always,

Hannah ❤

*If you would like to contribute to my educational fund, you can read my story and donate at Anything is appreciated! 


One thought on “MT Interventions- The Bucket Theory

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  1. You always fill my bucket. There is also the well theory. Same idea but opposite images. Little things cause you stress and they are like drops in the bucket but the bucket can only hold so much so that last negative drop will overflow the bucket and cause illness or emotional stress. One must empty ones bucket of negativity to handle the onslaught that daily confronts us. Grateful that you share your valuable insights with us.


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