1. How did you hear about music therapy?
The moment I heard about music therapy, I was studying theatre and as a side job, I gave vocal classes at the school of music in my neighborhood. During my final year, I had doubts about further studies. My dream to become an actress slowly faded away and the study of music education was not exactly what I was looking for. I did not only want to entertain or teach people. I wanted to use my creativity to help them. One of my teachers mentioned music therapy. I started searching for some more information on the internet and I visited some open houses at universities. The combination of psychology and music was exactly what I was looking for. So after graduation, I started studying music therapy at the University of Applied Science, Nijmegen. Finally, I could do what I was looking for; using my strengths to help people.
2. What kind of role has music played in your life?
From a very young age, I like to entertain people. Not only by playing music and singing, but also by acting and dancing. As a young girl, I was very shy and because of my dyslexia and ADD, I always had to work hard to achieve the same goals as my classmates. This made me very eager to learn, but also uncertain and frustrated. Standing on the stage gave me a feeling of power. It gave me confidence. I found a way to express myself and I could finally show the world what I was good at.
3. Can you describe one of your favorite music therapy sessions or groups to give readers an idea of what you do and with whom your work?
I work on the burn unit of Kanti Children’s Hospital twice a week. It is a pediatric hospital in Kathmandu and provides treatment for children through fourteen years of age. I provide music therapy support during burn dressings (individual sessions). I foster a positive and creative environment for the families and staff of patients through group music therapy sessions.
One of my client’s, a toddler of 5 years old with 40% burns, entered the dressing room with fear. He immediately started screaming and crying. As soon as I started playing ‘’Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’’ on the guitar he made eye-contact and there were small breaks in his crying. I noticed that his mother was also crying, so I put my guitar aside and with a hand on her shoulder, I gently began to hum. I integrated his name and the sounds he was making into the melody of the song. His mom also started humming along with me and there was a musical conversation. Slowly, his heartbeat entrained to the rhythm of the music and changed it into a calmer rhythm. It seemed that he started to relax; his breathing slowed down and there were moments when his eyes were closed. He left the treatment room while sleeping.
4. What is the greatest need for music therapists in your community?
Music therapy is something new in Nepal and a lot of Nepalese do not yet know what it is or they think it is just for entertainment. Therefore, I often provide presentations on music therapy at local schools or other organizations to raise more awareness. But only this is not enough. As clinicians we should cooperate more with each other by using each others strengths and referring to one another. In Nepal, there is actually a lot of demand for therapeutic help, but most of the Nepalese are not aware of music therapy so they search for other more familiar forms of treatment like medication. But this is not always the right treatment. Psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists should work more closely together, not only to raise more awareness but also to use each others strengths and specialism for the best possible treatment.
At Luniva, my own private practice at home, I am working closely with psychologists and school counselors. This is a great enrichment. Recently, all the music therapists of Nepal established a monthly intervision group in which we can share our experiences and discuss case studies, which is great!
5. How can others help?
By simply spreading the words to raise more awareness about music therapy.
6. What have you learned from your work as a music therapist?
There is plenty of work in Nepal when it comes to social projects. When I started working as a music therapist in Nepal two years ago, I grabbed every opportunity I got and I wanted to help as many people as I could. As I was working full-time at different locations, with different target groups and with all kind of ages, I missed the focus. I could not delve into the different target groups and because I worked at all the places only once a week, I did not really feel involved in the different organizations. This year I started realizing that I cannot help all these people myself and that it’s ok to hand work over to others. I no longer see this as a failure, but as professionalism.
Currently, in addition to the private clients I see in my own practice at home, I am doing only two more social projects: Kanti Children’s Hospital and Koshish, a mental health self-help organization.
I have also learned to be patient. It takes time to achieve your goals, but especially in Nepal where people are more laid back and I have to deal with many cultural differences. When I started working at Kanti Children’s Hospital, during my sessions I often thought, ‘’What am I doing here?’’ The TV was mostly on full volume during sessions, a flow of people walked in and out the treatment room and nurses often stood right in front of me. Together with my colleague, Verena Clemencic-Jones, I prepared a presentation about music therapy for all the staff of the burn ward. Finally, only two showed up. Even though we were thinking that it was useless, one of them spread the word to other hospital staff over the weeks following the presentation. More then a year later, I finally see positive changes. I have learned not to give up, but to be patient when all seems to go wrong sometimes.
7. Can you describe one or two incredible music therapy experiences that we can share – like a magical moment with a client or even a moment that enlightened your perspective?
At Koshish, I am working with adults who are suffering from different mental health illnesses. I provide music therapy sessions in two different departments. One is the transit home, a closed department, called House of Hope. The transit home provides shelter and treatment for women who are usually rescued from the street and have a history of domestic violence, abuse or prostitution. They are all traumatized and suffering from different mental health illnesses. Most of these women are not yet capable of making music, so I sing or play guitar or flute for them while they listen. I have seen that just listening to music helps them relax and escape their sorrow for a moment. As they say, “It feels like meditation.’’ Listening to the songs that they request also helps them to express their emotions. Some of the woman start to cry and others laugh and start to dance.
The other department is the Peer Support Group. This is a free, walk-in self-help group, for people with mental health problems to share their experiences. As there are no instruments at Koshish, I am working with body percussion. Physical movements gives them the opportunity to ground themselves and make contact with their bodies instead of being stuck in their heads. It also helps them to make contact with their surrounding and increase their concentration span. I am very proud when I see their progress and when I hear how much they appreciate the music therapy. A year ago, following a simple rhythm was very difficult. Now they are able to take the lead and come up with their own rhythms. The smiles that appear on their faces are priceless!
Saishree Chettri is one of my client’s at Luniva, my private practice at home. Saishree is 5 years old and diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. When she entered the music therapy room for the first time a year ago, her concentration span was low and she barely made contact with her surroundings. Saishree hardly spoke and could not express herself to the outside world, with behavioral problems as a result. Saishree loves to sing and I use her preferred and familiar songs within the sessions to create joint attention, to increase her concentration and to improve her speech and language skills.
One of these songs was a Nepali song called ‘’Phool ko aanka ma’’. I recorded the song and edited it with a background and a picture that Saishree had chosen. Saishree often asks about the movie and when we watch it she smiles. It looks like she finally found a way to express herself!
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