Music is like a magical time machine, transporting you back to a different time and place. On Friday night, as Steven and I listened to the sounds of Redgum, by John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew, we were once again a young couple with their life ahead of them, not long married with a baby son. The music of Redgum, with John Schumann’s distinctive storytelling voice, often filled our home. Our first night out without the baby was to a Redgum concert. Redgum was an Australian folk and political group during the 1980’s. Their protest music captured the misery and pointlessness of war and made my heart ache.
At times the rumble of drums or the soft tinkle of ivories floats into my counselling room at Little Window – Counselling, Psychology and Wellness. Then I know that our Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen, is working with a client, and I’m intrigued. Poking my head into the hallway, I try to see Claire using music in therapy, but her door is firmly closed and the mystery remains.
I would not describe myself as a musical person. I sing like a cat on heat, I’m an awkward dancer and my husband used to tell me off for singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star out of tune to our children. Yet I also know music brings great joy. I hear the first beats of an old love song and memories flood back. My mood can be lifted or lowered through a few well-chosen songs. I know that there is magic in how we respond to music. To satisfy my curiosity about music therapy I had a chat with Claire and asked her a barrage of questions.
Thanks for having me Anne, I know your curiosity is shared with so many people. I look forward to sharing a glimpse into the ‘music therapy space’.
How do you start a music therapy session?
In music therapy training we learn a lot about the importance of overall structure of a session – the opening, middle and close are each considered to be very important for their own reasons (just like the open, middle and close of a song or piece of music!) – and it will look different for each person I work with. I always intend to meet the person where they’re at – and finish the session closer to where they want to be. For some, this might mean we start with talking before introducing music, and for others, we start with music before we do any talking. Some clients like to start their sessions by bringing a song or piece of music that resonated for them – to help bring language to their current challenges. At other times we talk through the key challenges or wins so we can decide together what the best modality will be for the ‘middle’ part of the session.
Vulnerable Forgotten Australians need your care and assistance. If you work at Centrelink, the police, for an employment services provider, deliver health care, work in a hospital or an aged care facility it’s essential you understand that some Forgotten Australians have a history of abuse and neglect, which continues to impact on their lives and current needs.
Who are the Forgotten Australians?
The term Forgotten Australians was first used by the Australian Senate in its 2003–2004 report, Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care. This dismal label described a group of 500,000 children who were institutionalised between 1920 and 1970. These children grew up in State, church and charity run orphanages and homes where many of them were neglected, exploited and brutalised. The term now also refers to those who were in out-of-home care until the end of 1989. As many of these people have had families, it is highly likely that every Australian either was, or is related to, works with or knows someone who is a Forgotten Australian.
The Forgotten Australians are not a homogenous group and not all Forgotten Australians require the same level of assistance. Some were placed in care arrangements where they were nurtured and well looked after, others, however, experienced horrendous events where they were abused repeatedly throughout their childhood. Many Forgotten Australians have raised families, completed education, had successful careers, volunteered in the community, and own homes. However, others remain some of our most vulnerable citizens, struggling with physical and mental health conditions and challenged to maintain accommodation, relationships and employment.
It is the vulnerable and traumatised group of Forgotten Australians that require compassionate care and support when accessing services.
I came across the quote “Comparison is the death of Joy” by Mark Twain the other day and was struck by how succinctly it captured what I frequently hear, and occasionally do. Consider the following ways that joy is killed.
The new mum
The new mum gently nestles her beautiful baby boy in her arms. She gazes lovingly at her son, stroking his hair. He’s snuggled in a bunny rug, blissfully milk drunk. She’s just finished breastfeeding him, happy to do so in front of me.
She dips her head away from my inquiring eyes. “He wakes more at night than my friends baby”. Continue reading →
Seeing a play is one way that I revitalise myself. For me, a trip to the theatre is an act of self care and pure pleasure. I feel given to, with nothing expected in return. There’s a feeling of connectedness with the actors and the audience which I never get from watching a screen. As a psychologist, I advocate for self-compassion, self care, and connectedness, so it’s important that I walk the talk. This weekend I indulged myself with two plays.
Watching the Mathematics of Longing at Brisbane’s Le Boite theatre, I immersed myself in another world for an hour. I love this smalltheatre in the round. It feels so intimate, and I intensified the experience by sitting in the front row. A friend insisted that we do this at the last play we enjoyed, and, somewhat reluctantly, I acquiesced. Unexpectedly I discovered that I loved the closeness to the Continue reading →
Clients often experience a wave of relief after their first counselling session. Their burden is shared and they feel joined on their journey. That old saying, a worry shared is a worry halved rings true.
Sometimes, you don’t recognise how burdened you’re feeling until the load eases, as I experienced recently. I’d been working on Ms Forgotten Australian’s biography for over four years and had come to the end of my skills, capability, and motivation. I knew I had to do more but had no idea Continue reading →
Writing the biography of Ms Forgotten Australian led me into a foreign world, one of abusive Catholic clergy and the ominous power of the Catholic Church. Ms Forgotten Australian spent her childhood in the now infamous St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol. Sadly her time there included child sexual abuse by priests and systemic cover-up by the Church.
In May 2018 Archbishop Phillip Wilson was convicted of the cover-up of sexual abuse of altar boys. Priest Jim Fletcher abused the boys in the Hunter Region of New South Wales during the 1970’s. Last month Magistrate Robert Stone found Wilson guilty of concealing a serious indictable offence of another person. This is a landmark Australian case due to the precedent it set. The conviction Continue reading →
Getting to know your neighbours at a street party starts with a simple note in the letterbox:
Let’s do it again!
4 pm Sunday
On the grass out the front of No. 7
Bring your own everything – chairs, drinks and some nibbles to share.
We live in a cul de sac, a dead end street. We’re a friendly community but we don’t see much of each other except for these occasional gatherings. Judging by the turnout and the abundance of food and drink, most people welcome the opportunity to sit together and chat for an hour or two.
Some neighbours have lived on the street for over 25 years. These are the families who tell stories of long ago cricket games in the cul de sac. They ask after each other’s children, delighted Continue reading →
On Saturday Ms Forgotten Australian and I listened to Rhonda Collard Spratt, who, with Jacki Ferro has authored Alice’s Daughter: Lost Mission Child. Rhonda is Alice’s daughter and she is a delightful raconteur. She shared stories of her life, enlivened with music, poetry, and much laughter. Aunty Rhonda, as she is known, brings warmth and inclusiveness to a story of violence and separation.
These 5 delightfully therapeutic TED Talks are perfect when your head is a cacophony of critical chatter or your brain barrages you with blasts of self-blame. Take time, less than 18 minutes, to listen to a voice other than your own which is, after all, just telling you a story that you’ve probably heard many times before.
All these speakers know how hard it is to be human and yet still inspire us to be better. Clients tell me these talks make you feel that you’re ok, even if you’re not perfect. TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a not for profit organisation spreading ideas in the form of powerful talks. Before you start listening, scroll to the bottom of the post for some therapeutic listening tips.
1. The Power of Vulnerability
Let’s start with Brene Brown.Her first talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is one I’ve listened to many times and encourage most clients to listen to. If you’ve ever thought your vulnerability Continue reading →