A music therapist's experience of working with young people
Guest blogger Liz Norman talks about her work as a music therapist in Cornwall schools
I work as a music therapist in Cornwall. I have pretty amazing job and an awesome place to live. I’ve been a music therapist for five years now and in Cornwall for two years.
I’ve worked with clients who have been referred to music therapy for a huge range of different reasons. Often people who are not able to communicate verbally for whatever reason are referred for music therapy, or other non-verbal psychotherapeutic approaches, as talking therapies may not be helpful.
However, I also work in schools with young people who can use words to communicate and find that music therapy can be very effective for children who need emotional support or a place to explore their feelings and who they are. Using words to talk about feelings is always a challenge. By using musical improvisation, songs and games we can connect really quickly and start to play around with different ways of expressing ourselves creatively.
I work for Cornwall Learning Music Therapy Service. We have a team of five music therapists working across Cornwall in schools, hospitals and other settings. Our service is very fortunate in having the support of CMTT (Cornwall Music Therapy Trust). Although we are employed by a public sector organization, Cornwall Council, funding is still an ongoing issue as the sessions still need to be paid for and as we can’t apply for charitable funding some of that crucial support comes via CMTT.
Last year I did a short project in one mainstream primary school that was funded through TaMHS (Targeted Mental Health in School). The music therapy project was successful and all the children who took part seemed to benefit from their sessions and become more focused in the classroom. This year we successfully obtained funding from Big Lottery Awards for All project to extend this work and explore further how this kind of music therapy approach could be useful. I have been working in three different schools and spending half a day in each. Each child has music therapy for a term, either individually or in a small group depending on the reasons why they were referred.
Children have been referred for varied reasons, for example:
- Selective mutism or being very quiet at school
- To process feelings about changes in their lives due to parental separation
- To process feelings relating to experiences of domestic violence or abusive relationships
- To improve relationships within their peer group
- To explore attitudes towards academic work and achievement
- To explore feelings about relocating to Cornwall from another part of the UK
The work is fun, all the children enjoy the sessions and engage quickly as the therapeutic approach is so playful. Where possible I meet with parents face to face at the start and end of the block of sessions to share information and I meet with people at school to talk about how useful the sessions have been. I’ve noticed lots of positive changes in the young people I’ve been working with and I am gathering feedback from everyone involved. It’s hard to measure changes as all children are all different and outcomes are so varied but we are trying to get as much evidence as possible to show that this work is useful and effective.
I’d love to do more of this kind of work and are looking at different ways the sessions could be funded as so often money is the barrier to offering therapy to young people who could benefit from it. I believe offering intervention at this level, before minor difficulties become major issues in young people’s lives, is so important as if you can make a difference quickly you can stop problems growing and becoming much harder to tackle. Working in schools also makes a lot of sense as the children are there anyway and the school staff can support the work. It enables children who might not be able to access therapy through an outside service to be part of this kind of project.