Alicja* sustained a hypoxic brain injury following an acute period of mental ill health and, after her initial medical care, she was admitted to Daniel Yorath House, a specialist neurobehavioural rehabilitation service in Leeds, for support around her memory, movement and language. She was also struggling with her mental health and coming to terms with her injury and its consequences.

Alicja came to music therapy as part of her rehabilitation, after she had a discussion with the music therapist and the multi-disciplinary team at the service. Alicja’s very low mood coupled with her love of music were the primary reasons for her referral. When Luke, the Nordoff Robbins music therapist at Daniel Yorath House, first met her, he recalls that she spoke in a monotone voice and had a lack of facial expression, and would often stare into the middle distance.

In her first session, this translated into her music making and she sang in a limited range of a few tones, often becoming distracted from the instrument she was playing, and losing her sense of connection to shared improvisation. However, Alicja showed a real willingness to try things and experiment and the music therapy sessions built upon this. Luke would try to push her to explore her voice more fully through role modelling and creating small games within the improvisation. Alicja’s enjoyment of these moments was evident through her laughter and smiles, but also in her absolute commitment to squeezing every last note out of her range.

In these moments of playfulness Alicja was able to experience a different mode of connection with another person and a different way of experiencing herself. In working with Alicja’s voice and musicality, the music was also working directly with Alicja’s experience of herself – being playful, dynamic and connected within an improvisation also invited her to embody a different way of being.

At times Alicja would attend her sessions while in a very low mood or visibly upset, and her commitment to attending these sessions spoke volumes about what she felt music could offer her. Some weeks the sessions would provide a space that accepted and provided companionship in these low moods; at others through singing and playing, Alicja would find her mood was lifted.

Music therapy was a place where Alicja could find solace and consolation, but also one where she could explore her strengths and her wellness. As Alicja herself said “Music therapy really works! It has helped me so much with my voice and my mood!

Credit: Luke Wilson, Nordoff Robbins Music Therapist

*Name has been changed

Donna O'Reilly, Assistant Manager at Daniel Yorath House, praised the introduction of music therapy sessions for service users. She said:"In the six years that we have been providing music therapy at Daniel Yorath House we have seen a big transformation in the communication skills and personal demeanour of some of our service users with severe brain injuries. It has been humbling to see the joy and tears of happiness when a person with limited communication skills can sing a song, in some cases that they have written, expressing how they feel. Truly life changing."

Find out more information on Daniel Yorath House.

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