A less traditional form of therapy

When thinking about therapy one often imagines a sterile environment with a dusty couch and an old man armed with a clipboard. However, less traditional forms of therapy such as music and art therapy are becoming increasingly popular. Jessica Gittel Cornish sat down with music therapist Catherine Threlfall and local mother Jemma Hoye to discuss the advantages of music therapy. Pictures: Louise Barker

LOCAL school teacher Jemma Hoye accidentally fell into the world of music therapy after a chance meeting with music therapist Catherine Threlfall.

One week after her five-year-old son Ned was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Jemma accepted a trial music therapy session and has never looked back.

“When we first started seeing Catherine we had a very strict mindset that we needed to fix it (the ASD), however Catherine taught us to change our thinking to one of acceptance,” Jemma explains.

“Ned’s expressive communication started to improve, and we didn’t even know that music therapy would even help with that. We thought it could help calm him and give him another strategy to use to soothe himself.

However, it provided him another avenue to communicate through.”

Catherine believes that a broad range of people in the Sunraysia community, such as older adults living with dementia, are benefiting from creative-based therapies.

The Mallee Family Violence Centre has recently been incorporating creative-based therapies in to recovery programs it offers to youth and adolescents who have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse and family violence.

According to Catherine, the latest evaluations revealed “interesting developments for kids who have developed trauma that you might not see in other talking-based therapy”.

“Creativity can really unblock them,” she says. “So when music and art are carefully designed they can help kids manage difficult feelings that they can’t talk through.”

Catherine says her own profession of music therapy provided children like Ned with strategies that they can use for life.

“Music can be used as a medium to achieve goals and there is no sense of performance about it,” she says.

“These goals are individualised and could target social communication or even help improve someone’s gross motor skills.”

She said the therapy had introduced practical solutions to help calm Ned in sensory stressful situations.

“For example, the family purchased an iPad and noise cancelling headphones for Ned to use when visiting the local shops which is often a very difficult environment for him,” she explains.

“He can now pop on his head phones and listen to African drumming sound tracks if he feels overwhelmed and he copes so much better. And that’s also something practical that adults could quite easily do without feeling dorky or causing more social issues.”

Music therapy has also helped Ned at school, where he would often struggle to remember instructions.

“Ned would just shut down and withdraw in class,” his mother Jemma says.

“But music therapy taught him how to put those instructions in to a song that he could sing in his head, so he could remember what he was doing and no one would even notice.”

Music therapy is a diverse and research-based profession that is having positive outcomes for many community members, however to be effective it is not a service that is purely used once a week in a session.

Instead, Catherine explains that music therapy is an ongoing process which sees her “deeply involve a client’s entire support network” to be successful.

“Skills being learnt and developed in therapy sessions can be used in the home, school setting or where ever a person is at all times,” she says.

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