Find out why there’s so much more to music therapy than first meets the eye.
At Jimmy’s we know each person we support is an individual and that everyone responds to different means of support. To ensure we can reach as many people as possible and help them towards more independent living we are always looking for innovative ways to engage and support them. In February 2023 we launched a music therapy group at the 451 day service. It is open and welcome to all members of the homeless community. It is a safe place to play, be creative, listen, share and explore music together. The group is run by HCPC registered music therapist Naomi Thompson who has been working with the homeless community in Cambridge over the last 3 years.
The purpose of the music therapy group is to offer a safe, creative space that provides an opportunity to build relationships and express emotions through creating and listening to music. Activities in sessions vary greatly. Instruments that are easily accessible, such as percussion, keyboards and guitars, are available to play, alongside options to listen to chosen music. Group members will often improvise, or jam, as a group using the instruments, sometimes leading to playing a familiar song or writing a new song. They also share the different ways that music has been influential in their lives, from early years to present day.
Providing this creative space, with the support of a qualified therapist, enables group members to work through traumatic experiences in a nonverbal space, build trusting relationships with the therapist and with other group members. This can support attendees to build resources and coping skills that can be transferred outside of the group. It also provides a sense of structure to the week and something to look forward to.
Read on to hear some of the feedback from group attendees and hear how this space offers more than you might expect.
“I think that there is a very nice atmosphere.”
Coming to a new group activity can be intimidating and difficult for many of those in the homeless community. Reasons for this may vary, from difficult experiences in groups in the past, to a fear of failure and not being good enough or accepted by the group. Enabling attendees to feel comfortable in the group is therefore the first, and often most important, role of the therapist.
“Music allows you to relieve tension. Generally it is a very creative activity.”
One of the wonderful things about using music as a therapeutic tool is the capacity to express emotions, “relieve tension”, without the need to name the feelings or explain the process out loud to the group. This is an important process in the therapy, as attendees can begin to process, perhaps unconsciously, difficult experiences, whether past or present, in a way that is safe for them. As the therapy continues, attendees may then be able to verbalise these feelings and experiences, or it may be enough for it to stay within the music.
“It’s a good jamming session.”
Another aspect that working with music enables is for the whole group to play together, allowing a whole group musical conversation to take place. Often during an improvisation different members take the lead in the music at different times, passing this around so that as a group we are all contributing to a piece that is more than our individual playing. This is also a time where people can (re)experience and learn different ways to be and communicate in a group situation. We have also found that even those who would rather listen can provide valuable input to the group’s music, taking on the role of active listener and reflecting with the group on their experience during the playing.
“Naomi plays the piano. I’m learning to play maracas. [Another group member] can play guitar.”
Playing an instrument together with others can provide a sense of pride and accomplishment, and a sense of identity as a musician. The ability to learn new skills and recognise abilities in others supports changing perception of roles. Instruments hold different characteristics and change the shared music in different ways. It might be that playing the guitar enables an individual to lead the group in a chosen song, while playing the maracas changes the atmosphere and emotion that song carries. All are valued and have an important place in the musical tapestry.
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