Thoughts From The Couch – Musical moments

By the time a client arrives in the therapy room, most have exhausted the strategies they have thought of to try and solve their issues. They are looking to me for support as they face whatever is happening in their world that is causing them concern and or distress. For me, doing therapy is like being an artist with the instrument being my client. What I enjoy about utilising skills learnt as a Gestalt therapist is that it allows me to be creative within a stable frame. I never want to be the therapist that relies solely on my experience, and as a result, stops taking intuitive and creative risks. I see how creativity and intuition can move the therapy from being stale and predictable to dynamic and alive within a few moments. Creativity is everywhere we look in life. I believe that effectual psychotherapy depends on me, as the therapist, being willing to step out of my comfort zone on occasions and, where relevant, take the risk in suggesting experiments that may or may not end up being useful. I am mindful aways that each of my clients is different. No story the same and what might work for one client might not with another. Any creative intervention or suggestion always includes my client and determines whether it is followed through or not.

One of the things I have done over the years is to collect things that might be useful in sessions at a later date, a sort of library of tools. Music has been something that I have used in different ways and have a catalogue of both used, and yet to be used, experiments that involve sound in one way or another. What we know is that music can subtly bypass the intellectual part of the brain and directly connect with the subconscious. Depending on the moment and my intuition, music has often be both helpful in reframing a problem in a different light as well as allowing my clients to express in ways outside of the expected talking therapy. I have no doubt that each of us can think of a piece of music that can bring back memories. It is something most people can relate to and can have an immediate impact on our mood. We can be transported back years and bring back to our mind’s eye moments where music played a part in an experience we had. A piece of music or a particular sound can lift our spirits and console our soul; having a profound effect on our health, and well being, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

I have several drums which I use in different ways. It is thought that drums were the first musical instrument used back in prehistoric times. Beating on things to produce a sound is said to have begun in the early stages of human development. Drumming is a way to connect to our bodies, to our spiritual self and one another. It began as an echo of the human heart. The first sound we hear is the sound of our mother’s heartbeat. The heartbeat is something that is shared by all of us and a reminder that in that way we are all connected. I have used drums with clients who have wanted to express emotions hidden deep within them that have no words. By banging on a drum, they can connect with feelings that are buried, hard to communicate or they feel they are too shameful to speak. I have used drumming as a way for clients to link back to their bodies. For those who have difficulty soothing themselves I have sat and gentle drummed the rhythm of the heartbeat and allowed my client to be metaphorically taken back to the safety of their mothers womb, and rest there a while. A gentle reminder that no matter how alone they may feel we are all connected to humankind through our heartbeat.

Music is a magical medium and powerful tool. I have clients whose profession it is to play an instrument. I have sat and listened to them play their instrument bringing their individual quality and unique energy to the fore. By doing this, they are choosing to share with me an aspect of themselves that cannot be seen and often has no words. Clients have bought pieces of music for me to listen to. Music that they have chosen to use are part of a service for the death of their child, family member or friend; Music that represents feelings of deep loss, as well as music that represented their joy in overcoming difficult moments. We sit together immersed in the potent emotions that emerge, and I am transported to a different place, hearing their narrative in the notes played and the words sung.

Now that I am not doing face to face sessions, as a result of the pandemic. I have noticed a difference in how my clients are ‘arriving’ to therapy. My sense is that the journey they used to take was time for them to leave one world behind before entering their private world of therapy. They had time to reflect and consider what they were feeling and things they wanted to address. Now they are often staying in the room they have been in all day, they are at home or in an office, swiftly moving from work to therapy. They regularly arrive on the call pre-occupied for varying reasons, and there is a distinct difference to their arrival. There is little time or space for them to come not having had a break, rushing from one environment to another. As a result, I have started to use wind chimes, with some clients, as a way to give them the time and space to settle in the therapeutic space. They can leave the busyness of their world and move from their intellect to their heart space, allowing us to connect and their work to begin.

In the same way as music can inspire and delight, it can also soothe and relax. With clients who struggle with anxiety, sleep problems or trauma responses; music, as an external resource on which they can rely, can support them to reground and settle. Chanting and mantra can lead to sustainable healing. By regulating the rhythm of our breath, we can slow down the thought waves of our brain. By doing this, our body becomes more relaxed, thus reducing the limbic activity and stress response of the brain, a useful tool in moment of distress.

I had a client who I will call Max, who arrived having recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Our work together took place throughout a couple of years and as he slowly deteriorated we needed to find alternative ways of communicating, as he started to go blind and lose the power of speech. We found drumming to be a useful and connecting way of enabling him to express his emotions. Sometimes frantic and loud and at other times a faint whisper of a beat. There were moments when he was filled with fear, and I would sit with him gently beating the drum. Imagining the sound of his mother’s heart beat, he would settle peacefully with his fears fading away with the belief that they were going to be reunited. The last time I saw him, his wife had called to ask if I would come over. He was slipping away and had asked for the sound of the drum. I took several drums with me, and for a while, his wife and I sat quietly drumming reminding him that he was not alone and that our beating hearts would be a thread of connection for always. It was beautiful, moving, sad, and a moment I will never forget. Our co-created creativity allowed us to be flexible and, as a result, deep healing and peace was achieved before the sun and earth tilted out of balance.

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