The Psychologist sounds out the Music Therapist

Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen from Press Play Therapy
Music Therapist, Claire Stephensen from Press Play Therapy

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.

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.

So you do talk during music therapy?

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How you can care for Forgotten Australians

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.

How would you recognise a Forgotten Australian?

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Enjoying a trip to the theatre as an act of self care

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.

The Mathematics of Longing

Theatre as self care - The Mathmatics of LongingWatching 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

Easing the burden by reaching out

Burden of elephant supported by balloonsClients 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

Australia’s own Spotlight? Is this finally a crisis in the Catholic Church?

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

Getting to know your neighbours at a street party starts with a simple note in the letterbox:

Let’s do it again!

Street Party

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

Meeting Alice’s Daughter on Sorry Day

On Saturday Ms ForAlice's Daughter gotten 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.

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Creating calm and safety in the counselling room

A warm welcome, a cup of tea, a comfy place to sit, beautiful surroundings, gentle music and the waft of fragrant oils.  We hope our clients experience a sense of calm and safety as they enter our counselling space at Little Window – Counselling, Psychology and Wellness. The house, with frosted glass windows, provides complete privacy and scatters a soft light through the rooms. A sanctuary and an inward-looking space. Ideal for reflection.

Created with intent

Counselling roomThe directors of Little Window, psychologists Thania and Christina, created this space with intent. They lovingly chose and positioned every item for the rooms and behind their artful decoration lies neuroscience. Their intention is to provide a calm and safe space, which helps interrupt the fight, flight or freeze response clients often experience. These responses begin in the amygdala, the area of the brain that processes memory, interprets emotion, and often drives Continue reading

Silenced!

 

Victims voices and stories

are often silenced.

 

A parent abuses a child, yet that same parent is also responsible for feeding and sheltering the child. Fear of retribution deftly silences the child.  No adults are seen as safe.

Condemnation and punishment await an unruly and antisocial boy, who has no words to describe his chaotic emotional world or the abuse he is experiencing. Opportunities for disclosure are lost.

A teenage girl internalises her shame, silenced by the myth of the perfect family. No one would believe what happens in her family. The self-inflicted slashes on her thighs scream her pain, but no one hears. Continue reading

The Birth of a Book- The story of a Forgotten Australian

I’m writing my dear friend’s biography, which has the working title of Not Forgotten.  It’s been a labour of love, but often, more like hard dull labour than passionate love. I have felt like a pregnant elephant, holding this huge story deep inside me for the longest time.  But elephants only gestate for two years, and this book has been in production for over four years.  I now know that four years is not unusual for a book.  The process seems endless – interview, research, write, get feedback from readers, edit, interview more people, write, get more feedback from readers, edit.  Repeat multiple times.  Then become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task, drown in self-doubt, pick yourself up and get going again.

I blogged in 2015 for a year. The purpose was to hone my writing skills while my husband Steven and I enjoyed six restorative months away from our busy lives, travelling the world.  Those posts are still here, now mostly irrelevant, but I can’t bear to delete them.  Since then I have continued to work on Not Forgotten. Now I’m firing up the blog again to motivate me through the final stages of labour – getting it from a manuscript to publication.

Birth of a Book - The story of a Forgotten AustralianDuring the gestation period Not Forgotten has led me to thought-provoking places; the magnificent State Library of Victoria, an orphanage for critically ill children in China, a psychiatrist’s room, a rock climbing expedition and decaying buildings in Far North Queensland.  I have become the keeper of my friend’s family history, with cupboards overflowing with documents, diaries and photos of people I do not know.  My life has been enriched by the growth of a cherished friendship.

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