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CASE STUDY - One boy's journey With Music Therapy

Hear how ‘Luke’ (not his real name) made room in his life for healing through music therapy.

Sarah McColl-Wiltshire shares insights from her work with Place2Be

Within Place2Be I work in an integrative way, and in the Place2Be room I have access to lots of wonderful resources including puppets, sand trays, art materials and musical instruments.

Place2Be counselling is child-led, which means we go where the children lead us. As a music therapist I am fortunate to be able to confidently respond musically when I am invited to do so by the child I am working with.

These musical moments are often quite fleeting. I would like to now briefly illustrate how one boy, who I will call Luke, has used music in our sessions together.

Luke began 1-1 work with Place2Be aged 7. At the time of referral Luke had witnessed domestic violence, experienced a bereavement and had a new baby sister. Luke initially worked with a counsellor on placement before we began working together.

Luke often brought a lot of anger and aggression to his sessions. He communicated this through his play, then one day he discovered the drum.

Luke started to use the drum in a way that I often see when working with children experiencing emotional difficulties. He pounded it as hard and fast as he could and then stopped, exhausted, amazed and surprised at the sound he had just made. I noticed his response verbally before asking if he would like me to drum with him, to make a big loud noise together. This began our musical relationship, turn-taking on the drum, playing with big loud noises and finding shared rhythms which brought us together without words (something Luke struggled with). Big angry feelings found an outlet on the big loud drum!

One of the themes that has been present throughout Luke’s time in counselling has been his internal struggle with hard and soft, aggressive and nurturing. Luke is a very loving and gentle boy who seems to be torn between identifying with this ‘soft’ side and that of the male aggressor. I feel this was illustrated in his sessions by his use of the chimes, in contrast with the drum. Luke would run his finger along the chimes slowly while watching them and listening until they eventually faded into silence.

There was an almost meditative quality to this, and I reflected this by playing a slow gentle melody on the glockenspiel. These moments would usually end abruptly, as if Luke caught himself in a vulnerable place and felt a need to protect himself.

As I have mentioned, Luke often struggled to express himself verbally. He loves to draw, and often while we were drawing together he would hum to himself. I always remember the first time I hummed back to him, he looked up at me with a big smile and a slight look of surprise.

Children naturally sing, hum, whistle or tap rhythms. My responding to Luke’s humming eventually led into him singing phrases such as “I’m useless and I can’t do anything right”. I was able to sing back to him, reflecting what he had expressed and giving him space to explore further.

I feel that by singing, Luke was able to express his feelings in a way that had some distance from himself, making it feel safer. A bit like when we use puppets, it is the puppet talking and not the person. Singing transforms difficult feelings into something ‘not-me’ which can feel less threatening for a child.

The young people that are attending music sessions at the moment, I know are benefiting massively from it.

Lizzy Watkiss, Occupational Therapist

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