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Music Therapy in the time of COVID - how NLMT’s remote sessions actually work

For many people, lockdown feels horrible. It challenges our mental health. Reports suggest many people are experiencing heightened anxiety, stress and feeling out of control.

There, said it. There is something to be said for attempting a positive outlook and trying to build resilience - but not at the expense of denying difficult feelings about the massive changes in the life of not just our nation, but of the world.

How do we continue? Where can we find “normal”, routine and ritual, when so much of our current existence happens in uncharted space? There are many meetings and events that have had to move to a remote existence: therapy is one of them.

North London Music Therapy are very pleased to have been able to move all existing patients to a remote format for therapy. Not every organisation has been able to do this, for various very defensible reasons. We appreciate that we are in a lucky position to be able to continue to support our existing patients and to be ready to welcome future ones virtually before we can meet face to face.

It also means we’ve got quite some experience already of working remotely in therapy. Here’s what we’ve found so far.

It feels weird at first.

This is to be expected. You’re in a different room; so is your therapist; you don’t feel the presence of someone else being there with you. You have to rely on a good internet connection; sometimes there are breaks in the line, or weird sounds; sometimes you can’t quite hear what your therapist said or played; sometimes your therapist can’t quite hear you; sometimes (god forbid) the call gets disconnected. These are new things that you and your therapist both have to think about.

You need to consider the room you’re in quite carefully.

This would usually be up to your therapist to think about and organise for you, but at the moment that’s not possible. You need to make sure you’re in a room that’s quiet, so not much background noise, and that’s unlikely to be disturbed for the duration of your session. If your therapy sessions are video calls, check whether you’re happy that what you have in the background can be seen by your therapist.

Think about your sound set-up.

This will depend on what device you're using and what equipment you've got access to. When using a phone, especially on speaker phone, the sound your therapist makes will cut out when you're making sound - that's what happens during regular phone conversations too. If you can, use a laptop instead of a phone, and use a pair of headphones to help you hear the sound. Even better, if you've got access to a microphone or even an audio interface, make sure they are compatible with your laptop and use them during your session for increased sound quality.

Remote music making is a whole different ball game.

Not every patient has instruments at home. That’s ok, we don’t need instruments necessarily for music therapy - but if you’d like some instruments, how can you get some, or make some? Is there something you could use as makeshift percussion? Would drumming surfaces in the room you’re in feel satisfactory enough? Would you be happy to sing, even if you don’t usually?

So much of music therapy is based on the connection between patient and therapist - and one of the most difficult things about remote music making is that it can feel very isolating. Sometimes when playing, it’s possible to feel very aware of your own playing - a reminder that your therapist is not in the room with you. It’s a new sensation, and might take a bit of getting used to.

But don’t lose hope - remote music making can be done.

We’ve found so far that the best method of music making online is by using free improvisation. By getting rid of the need to play in perfect time together, it gets rid of the inevitable delay between devices and means you can concentrate on connecting musically with your therapist in other, more achievable ways.

Some connection is better than none.

So far, the feedback we have received suggests that our patients are pleased to be able to have the option to carry therapy on in some form, especially during such a difficult, uncertain time. As long as the lockdown continues, NLMT will be able to offer remote sessions to anyone who needs it, to ensure ongoing care for people experiencing anxiety and stress.

If you feel you could benefit from music therapy at this difficult time, contact us to arrange a free initial consultation over Zoom.

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