“We should be living in a world where the most vulnerable and the most dependent are focused
upon the most”, Adrian Snell.
What is your job about?
I’m a Music Therapist and Arts Therapy Consultant for Curriculum Development at Three Ways (special) School, which has students from 4-19 years old. Music therapy and the arts in general have a lot to say about ways in which we can help our young people access the curriculum. It’s not just about writing on a whiteboard, it’s about immersion in topics and use all of the senses. Students may have limited or very little speech, or choose not to use words as their primary form of communication. We are working in an environment where we have to explore other ways of helping them to understand the world and to follow the curriculum. As the music therapist I do one-to-one sessions and work with small groups to enable them to express themselves. All of these things help young people address their problems or their points of crisis. My other role in the school is to come alongside other therapists and teaching assistants to look at how we can help our children and our classes to better access the curriculum and life in general.
What issues do you address?
Self-expression is the main issue. I think a lot of our young people are limited in the means by which they can truly express themselves, especially if they haven’t been encouraged to try other ways. For example, some children come from mainstream schools where they may have struggled with learning or been bullied.
What moved you to take action?
Coming from a background in music, as a composer and a professional musician, I remembered that the way I found I could express myself more fully when I was a child was through the piano and musical instruments. I used to lock myself away, playing out how I was feeling. I have made my way through life deeply influenced by music as a way of expression. When I reached a point around 14-15 years ago where I realised that the world of touring and performing, whilst stimulating and exciting, is also very draining and costly for family life and rootedness, I thought ‘is this it? I concluded that no, it wasn’t enough. I heard a music therapist give a lecture at a seminar in Holland on her work with men in a prison psychiatric ward and how she worked with drums to express anger, anxiety and rage. I remember thinking ‘my goodness, I could do that’ and having followed her up she put me in touch with the Guildhall School of Music in London and they recommended the Bristol Music Therapy Centre. To my amazement one of the therapists there was a childhood friend so we reconnected. I went to have a look at her work and I decided it was for me. I did the training and started to practice about 13 years ago.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome?
It has been difficult to get people to understand the value of music and the arts as therapy. I think some of that is self-consciousness: people don’t want to step into something which feels uncomfortable. Therapy is a difficult word because in some circles it’s very meaningful and in others its benefits are not understood. It has taken a long time to break down the resistance where it exists and in some cases it remains.
What helped you keep going in hard times?
- Despite some resistance to the work it is rewarding when you work with people who really ‘get it’ or who completely change their mindset about music as therapy.
- Collaborative work is very stimulating, and I don’t enjoy working totally in isolation.The collaboration means I’m working in different parts of the school and my work is able to be far more inclusive – I find that very stimulating and rewarding.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very happy) where would you rate how you feel about your life?