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Group beginnings

Later this week I will be starting to run two new Music Therapy groups for children with autism through the National Autistic Society. This is a return to working with children for me as have been focusing on my adult work for the past couple of years. I really do have that back-to-school, new term feeling as I leave an amazing summer behind and dig out the new stationery, shiny new instruments and have a head full of new ideas!

Setting up a new group requires a lot of thought and practical considerations. I’ve had to consider where it will be, time, how many children, age range, individual and group aims, support staff, instruments and communication aids. All of this comes before even meeting the members of the group and starting at the very beginning of getting to know them and how Music Therapy might help them.

The group will grow in size as the term goes on. In a way this is quite nice as we’ll get to know a couple of children to begin with and gradually include more as they are referred. Hopefully I’ll also be able to think about who will fit into each group based on needs, personalities etc.

However, as ever with therapy, you can plan and put in place everything to start setting the group boundaries but essentially I will still be going into the unknown and having to respond to the children in the moment. Perhaps because the work is with children with autism and also through being a little nervous my instinct is to keep it very structured and under control. My experience tells me that this will help to a certain extent but eventually I will have to trust my intuition as a Music Therapist and allow the children and myself space within that structure to improvise, create, respond and find our way as we grow together as a group.

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Professional Identity

Last week I ran a workshop on Music Therapy for a group of parents who all have children with learning disabilities and autism. This was the second time I’ve been invited to speak for this particular organisation and those who came were enthusiastic and eager to learn about the benefits of music for their children.

The workshop consisted of group discussions on what music is, how we use it in our lives and what it might mean to people, the therapeutic benefits of music, what Music Therapy is, ways we work, music and brain development, lots of case studies and video examples and finally a practical session to help parents tap into their own musicality and give them lots of ideas and tools to use at home with their children.

I felt like I gave them a lot of information and different experiences and the feedback was very positive. Parents said they felt they had learnt a lot, what I was saying helped them feel they were doing the right thing when they sang to their children and my passion for the subject was inspiring! I think one of the great things about Music Therapy is that we’re always looking for potential and responding to what children can do. We’re meeting the children where they’re at and working with them, responding to them in the moment.

An interesting discussion was had afterwards with the coordinator of the group who felt it was a shame there were so few parents present at the workshop. She wondered if the word ‘therapy’ had put people off. If it was advertised as a workshop called ‘Benefits of music for your children’ rather than ‘what is Music Therapy and how can it help your child?’ would this have attracted more parents? Although we did mention a practical workshop to give parents musical tools, did this need to be at the forefront? Perhaps due to financial restraints, families want to be given things they can do themselves without needing to pay for a professional, when their children already have so many different services working with them?

Or is it the word ‘therapy’? Here in the UK, there are ongoing debates about Music Therapy being known as Music Psychotherapy in some settings and different therapists wanting to use alternate titles. The HCPC registered title is ‘Music Therapist’ and many therapists believe families would not want their children receiving ‘Music Psychotherapy’ as that implies different things. Although we are working on an emotional level with children, that may not be the most important aspect for parents – they want their child to be interacting and communicating.

Perhaps there is something off putting about the word ‘therapy’ in itself or people are unsure of what it means as it is used so often these days. I would have to think long and hard before removing it from a description of a workshop I was running as I am trained as a Music Therapist, have worked hard to gain that title and believe in what I do. It’s a difficult dilemma and one I’m sure comes up time and time again for Music Therapists and will continue to do so.

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In the beginning…

Hello and welcome to my new blog! I will start by introducing myself and what I hope to get from this new venture.

My name is Belinda Soper and I’m a Music Therapist working in London. I’ve been qualified for just over 2 years now and have finally managed to build up a full week of work. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s been hard work and now that I have lots of clients it’s still hard work but in a good way!

I have quite a varied week of work which keeps me on my toes. I work for the NHS two days a week on a mental health unit for adults. The unit has six wards and I work across the four acute wards.  Here, I am part of a large inpatient therapy team including other Arts Psychotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Activity Co-ordinators. I mainly run open groups on the wards serving a population of patients with psychosis, mood disorders and personality disorders. I carry out individual assessment sessions for those patients who are more isolated or unable to engage in groups. I’ve recently started a new singing group project on the unit as well which I’m sure will get a whole blog post of its own very soon!

For another two days a week I work at a further education college for young adults with learning disabilities. The students are profoundly disabled and we have a lot of young people with autism and challenging behaviour. The college is residential but has day students as well. Here I have a full timetable of class groups and individual sessions which I share with the other Music Therapist Alice. My groups are very much focused on promoting social skills, peer awareness and communication. There is a large therapy team at the college including Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, a Counsellor, Relaxation Therapist, Art Therapist, Aromatherapist and a few Psychologists…. phew!

Finally, for my remaining day of the week I fit in some supervision and some private clients. This is my day of driving around seeing clients in their own homes or in community settings. This little private practice has varied over time. Sometimes I have lots of children on my books although at the moment I’m mainly doing more work with adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues.

So, that’s a summary of my week of work. Since qualifying I’ve been building up to this point and I hope to settle into this pattern for a while and hopefully share what I learn along the way. When I started my Music Therapy training we were told the course was one huge learning curve. I’ve since learnt that being a qualified Music Therapist means continuing on that learning curve; constantly learning, absorbing, reflecting, adapting and being amazed by the experiences we share with our clients.

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