A Response to a NYT Article on the Me2/Orchestra

Responding to “Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness Through Music” by Michele C. Hollow on January 29, 2019.

Music has been used as a coping mechanism and vehicle for healing for hundreds of years across varying cultures and civilizations. This recent NYT article discusses how some classical musicians who have been living with mental illness have come together to perform, create their own music community, and fight the stigma that comes along with having struggles with mental health.

The Me2/Orchestra is a classical music organization that has chapters in Burlington, VT and Boston, MA, whose mission is to create a safe space for people living with mental illness to come together to challenge stigma and perform. Me2 was founded in 2011 by conductor Ronald Braunstein after years of living with bipolar disorder. These orchestras perform several times throughout the year and consist of professional and amateur musicians living with mental illness. The environment sounds like one of support and encouragement; where musicians can come together to accept one another, get back to playing music again, and to be a part of a community that is actively working towards erasing stigma associated with mental illness. The article also talks about SoundHealth: Music and the Mind which is an initiative created to focus on the connections and relationships that exist between music and the mind.

“The environment sounds like one of support and encouragement; where musicians can come together to accept one another, get back to playing music again, and to be a part of a community that is actively working towards erasing stigma associated with mental illness”

The Me2/Orchestra is a great example of how music acts as a bridge between people who may not otherwise cross paths. The natural way that it encourages connections in social, emotional, cognitive areas within people is demonstrated beautifully through the Me2/Orchestra and its mission. Living and coping with mental health issues can be tremendously isolating. Having a space where people can rehearse, perform, connect with their instruments again and with each other allows for musicians to get back to their love of performing. Me2 will often perform at hospitals, correctional facilities, and events related to mental health. I would imagine it must feel empowering to give back in this way.

The SoundHealth initiative appears to have a great mission: to study and understand more about the impact of music on the brain, body, and how it may be used as a possible treatment intervention. However, they use the term “music therapy” incorrectly, as music therapy is already an established profession. It would be extremely beneficial for them to connect with board certified music therapists, and the American Music Therapy Association, as the profession of music therapy has existed for decades. According to the American Music Therapy association (AMTA):

“Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”

Music therapists are trained on how to use music to address clinical goals and already consider the connections between music and the brain and body when they work with individuals. Musical interventions are the treatment and music therapists are trained on how to utilize music as their therapeutic tools. There is ample research available in AMTA’s two scholarly journals, Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives in addition to research that exists on music and its impact on memory, cognition, motor skills, social development, education, and emotions.

Music always seems to find a way to connect people who share common human experiences. This article highlights wonderful things that are happening to further the support the benefits of music.

Roles of Life: Exploring Drama and Play as Healing Tools

Drama Therapy

Drama therapy refers to the use of theatrical techniques to promote healing, foster change, and develop personal growth and well being. It is often confused to be a modality limited to children or actors when in fact it can serve as a cathartic, transformative tool for therapeutic purposes. Drama therapists use all types of projective techniques and forms of embodied work to help clients to closely examine the human experience and relate these insights back to their own stories. Whether it is story telling, metaphor, improv or performance, using drama allows clients a safe space to use their creative problem solving skills, pretend, and tap into their childlike imagination.

If you consider the idea that we are essentially the authors of our own life story, it can be posited that we perform our lives by alternating our roles every single moment to adapt to certain situations. For example, imagine a 30 year old mother who works a full time job, raises two children, is an avid volunteer at a local church, and enjoys running long distance and playing piano in her spare time. In this one provided example, we can distinguish countless roles that this individual has to constantly shift in between in order to maintain order: mother, business owner, philanthropist, caregiver, wife, hero, athlete, and artist just to name a few. What is not so obvious are all of the other roles that we shift between that make us unique human beings.

While these roles may be clearer, this individual might also shift between roles such as victim, sick person, or inner critic. A distinct goal of the drama therapist is to acknowledge these roles, and offer the ability to expand or alter this list based on the individual’s personal goals. This is achieved and explored by engaging the client in creative forms of play. As a creative arts therapist, I offer the client a myriad of different modalities in order to personalize their experience in a customized fashion that not only creates a safe space to explore different forms of self expression, but also allows client’s the freedom to choose how they would like to work and to choose how they would like to write their own story. This also initiates autonomy which seems to be a common goal with many of our clients.

 

Drama Therapy

 

Another benefit of utilizing drama within therapy is the option that is presented to clients regarding re-authoring their personal stories and narratives. It can be an uncomfortable process to make significant changes in our lives, but by using drama, we have the ability to try on different realities through the use of play and pretend. Through the artform of creative problem solving and improvisation, clients have the ability to gain insight regarding new ways to view and acknowledge these transitions. It essentially allows for the client to take risks without fear of failure or consequence, but they are allowed to test the waters of different realities.  It has often been asserted that the main blocker for creative energy is fear. By working with the fear instead of trying to eliminate it, new discoveries can be considered and explored in ways that can be hard to put into words. This is also where the beauty of embodiment comes into play.

Delving into therapy takes a brave individual and can be an extremely vulnerable, uncomfortable time period. Not only does it require a level of trust between therapist and client, it can bring up a lot of suppressed emotions for a client. Through drama and story telling, the therapist is able to provide a layer of what we like to call “aesthetic distance”. This term refers to the idea that the client is one step removed from their own personal narrative by working through metaphor or pretend.

Tapping into the ability to play and be given permission to take risks has shown to foster spontaneity and creativity, allow individuals a new take on creatively problem solving, reduce cortisol levels, and promote self worth from the act of creating and contributing. As human beings, we are constantly facing new battles and waves of life. Drama therapy allows us to tap back into that playful spirit that can often get lost in the mess of the human experience.

“Under the guise of play and pretend, we can – for once – act in new ways. The bit of distance from real life afforded by drama enables us to gain perspective on our real-life roles and patterns and actions, and to experiment actively with alternatives.” -Renee Emunah