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From the inside looking out - a perspective on Music Therapy

Wed 7 Jul 2021 - Dean Beadle

Dean Beadle is a conference speaker and inset trainer, sharing his experiences of being autistic. He works in the UK and abroad.

Facebook: @dean.beadlespeaker

Instagram: @deanbeadlespeaker

I’m afraid if you’re looking for an emotive piece about being 'saved', 'fixed' or 'mended' then this blog isn’t for you. Therapy has understandably become a dirty word for some, due to many disreputable 'therapies' making such offensive medicalised claims. No music therapist I know would work from those ableist and dehumanising tropes. I didn’t need saving, fixing or mending. But as an anxious preteen with a growing fear of the world, what I did need was support in managing those emotions. Music therapy provided that in spades.

A new outlet

I had weekly music therapy sessions and they were funded by the local authority. (No, really! Once upon a time services to support wellbeing were funded. What a time to be alive!) Utilising the instruments in the therapy room, me and my therapist would improvise together. As a form of call and response, my therapist would respond to the sounds I created. This was a cathartic new outlet for my feelings without any pressure to put them into words. I may have been a gobby child but sharing my emotions wasn't easy for me. Through music, I could express them without any fear of judgement or negative response. That was a powerful thing.

When to stop?

The therapy continued for three years and crucially I had the same therapist throughout. It was important that I had time with the same therapist to form a safe trusting relationship within which I could share openly. I fear that due to budget cuts, children of today rarely have that luxury.  My trust in the therapist, combined with a growing understanding of my emotions, meant that towards the end of the three years I’d spend the sessions just talking. I rarely picked up an instrument, despite my therapist’s impassioned pleas to do so! As a result, we both concluded that all the initial aims of the therapy had been achieved and that this was a positive place to finish.

Full circle

Alongside my work as a speaker and trainer, I have also recently been touring as a singer. In fact, my former music therapist occasionally accompanies me on piano at gigs. There’s something wonderfully full circle about that, isn’t there? If we were making a schmaltzy afternoon movie then that would be the final scene. My therapist closing the piano as the audience clap, moistening her sheet music with projectile tears of joy and exclaiming: “who knew a glockenspiel could change a life…” But we are firmly in reality dear reader, and saccharine endings are just for the big screen. Anxiety remains part of my life, sometimes unbearably so.  That’s never changed. Music therapy was never about transformations or absurd happy ever afters. What it was about was setting me on a path to better ride the waves of that anxiety. And my therapist? She was an empowering voice who helped me to celebrate myself in all my autistic glory. Perhaps not a schmaltzy happy ever after, but it’ll do nicely for me.