Feeling safe and sound through music therapy

Issue: Volume 98, Number 1

Posted: 25 January 2019
Reference #: 1H9qcv

Primary students who began to experience anxiety and stress following a series of earthquakes are learning to build resilience by using music as a release.

Music therapy is helping students develop strategies and skills for wellbeing.

Once a week at Seddon School, groups of eight to 10 students gather for a confidential, hour-long music therapy session.

During these sessions, which are run by qualified music therapists, students write and sing songs, compose music and play instruments. At the same time, they develop strategies and skills for wellbeing.

Principal Tania Pringle says the programme developed as a result of increased anxiety following the 2013 and 2016 Marlborough earthquakes.

“What happened following the 2016 earthquake was Blenheim South Rotary, with the support of Rotary International, wanted to look at what they could do knowing what we’d learnt from our 2013 earthquake and from the Christchurch earthquakes that the mental health of people is most significant,” Tania says.

“Quite often with children, particularly with younger children, they don’t have the words to describe how they’re feeling, particularly in heightened anxiety situations, heightened stressful situations. It’s giving them an avenue so they can use music to get that out and then actually deal with it and develop those strategies they need to use in everyday life.”

Students are selected for the programme after consultation with them, their parents and teachers. The sessions have helped students deal with the still ongoing aftershocks, which occur every few weeks.

“Every child has different strengths and outlets and how they need to deal with it,” Tania says.

“It’s actually just that chance to get back and recentre yourself and that mindfulness and being able to each week put yourself back in a good state because it means you can carry on. From the earthquakes we noticed that that was the challenge, actually being able to centre themselves, be positive and be in the growth mindset.”

Changing reactions

The positive effect of the programme can be seen in the students’ changed reactions to unexpected events.

“Taking in a different situation, a different context, they’re able to verbalise what they need to do from the strategies they’ve learnt through it and just be more resilient and coping with day-to-day life,” she says.

“We know when children aren’t  in a good state, in a good space, that learning is not always easy. It’s really allowed them to continue to progress at normal, if not accelerated, rates because they are feeling good and they’ve got the toolbox if they need.”

The groups are mixed year levels, but are kept within two or three years of each other to ensure emotional intelligence levels amongst participants are similar.

Some students are now taking this learning back into the classroom to share with their classmates.

“Some of them are then able to apply it to their other class members and say, ‘Hey, this would be a good answer to solving this problem or maybe if we did this?’ and are able to support their peers.”

Self-managed support proposed

Some students are so eager to continue the sessions, despite the lack of funding, they are now exploring the possibility of a self-managed support group.

“They’ve developed such trust within their own group and the ability to support each other they’re looking to manage themselves, so we’re looking at supporting and developing for 2019 a way that they can actually have that opportunity to go to our music room and just use what we’ve got as equipment and just have that time where they’re able to recharge each other’s batteries or refill each other’s buckets,” Tania says.

“While we’ve taken this from an earthquake approach, this is also being able to deal with life and moving forward.”

The music therapy sessions at Seddon School are provided by Creative Kids Trust.

What students are saying…

Sienna, Year 8

“If you’re really stressed out at school it’s good to go to the session and relax. It was quite easy going and laid back, you didn’t really have to hold yourself back in there. I liked the human xylophone, we all held out our hands and [the therapist] would hit each one of our hands and we had to make a different sound and she would go along the line, that was fun. I learnt that if I have something weighing on my mind then I can talk to someone and music’s a good way to channel emotions. They said it’s a good start to recognise your emotions.”

Ashleigh, Year 8

“[The therapist] would make us lie down and she would play relaxing music and play a singing bowl, it was relaxing when you had a stressed out day at school. I think it helped us learn more about ourselves and how to relax ourselves if we were alone and that we can talk to someone about it. I think I learned a lot about other people in the group as well. She would say an emotion and then we had to play that emotion, play how we would feel that emotion.”

Lilly, Year 8

“We got to sit in a circle and sing songs at the start. I just liked singing with everyone and having everyone there. I didn’t have to worry about anything else or anything that was happening in school. I was more calm because I was very anxious from the earthquakes and then when I started doing music therapy I felt a lot more calm and it just helped, like at home.”

Angus, Year 5

“I quite liked it at the end when we got to sing a song that we made up, they’d let us share something, making up songs and then sharing them because I like singing and it’s a nice way to let out your emotions without speaking and you can do it anywhere, you don’t really need anything except yourself. It’s easier to express yourself through music and outside of music therapy I can handle myself way better because sometimes I get annoyed at home and in the classroom. They taught us to wiggle our toes and clench our fists really hard somewhere, like pretend that you’re squeezing a lemon and rubbing your feet in mud, which is calming.”

Olly, Year 5

“When I’m playing instruments I just feel free and like I don’t have to do any homework or anything, I’m in musicland... at times the group wasn’t getting along so I just got really annoyed how it was trying to control your emotions when we were all just fighting and arguing. After a while, for that reason and because it was taking up my favourite subject time, I left for three or four sessions and then I came back so I could just do a bit of reading and when I came back the whole group was fresh and we weren’t fighting or arguing as much.”

James, Year 4

“I still play the guitar. Playing the drums and the guitar and just letting stress out of my shoulders all the time took away all the stress from the earthquakes. It’s helped me have more room to think.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 3:46 pm, 25 January 2019

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