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The Colors of a Flame

By Brian Locascio, MusicWorx Intern

When given the opportunity to work with MusicWorx and Resounding Joy Inc. I learned that I would get to conduct a case study and a special project. I began to ask myself, what are some populations in need that are often neglected in music therapy. After weeks of journaling ideas and combing through articles, two populations stuck, first responders and queer people. I have always wanted to help those who are in need, and what better way than to support those who are more likely to have depression, anxiety, and stress due to the high risk situations they face daily? First responders are more susceptible to workplace-related trauma while queer people are especially susceptible to systematic, workplace, and individual trauma. With all of these factors, what better place to start things off than at the fire station?

The first responders group that I have had the benefit of working with is in partnership with CAL FIRE and includes firefighters, and dispatchers. Music therapy sessions were facilitated with the intention of:

  1. Reducing anxiety
  2. Increasing healthy coping skills
  3. Destigmatizing emotional/mental health discussions
  4. Facilitating staff bonding

These 12 sessions took place within small groups ranging in size from two to nine people. The first gathering involved group assessment followed by drumming where individuals’ created rhythms based on responses for the group to play while continually validating each other. Due to COVID-19, the sessions transitioned to Zoom until the end of the case study. 

Several challenges presented themselves during the transition to virtual services. Individuals had the option to mute themselves and/or turn off their cameras which had a significant impact on my ability to take observational data. Responses typed in the chat were collected and transcribed by the therapist. In addition, the music therapist facilitating each week often had to innovate new techniques to treat clients over Zoom that would not sacrifice quality of experiences while still being rooted in research. I found that many of the techniques I used would never have been found in a textbook prior to this year, including creating a relaxation video using the site Pexels with accompanying background sounds found on the app Relax Melodies, or using a DJ beat maker on Splice.com to coordinate body percussion, or even leading the group in a guided meditation without ever being in the same physical space.

These last couple of months in internship have certainly been challenging, but I would have never guessed that I would have learned so much in such a short time. When we reached the eighth session, when the group meetings were originally scheduled to end. In order to facilitate four of the sessions, two groups were created to best support our clients. On Tuesday mornings, we had our energizing group and on Thursday nights we have our relaxation group. By providing two options, we increased accessibility to music therapy. I’ve observed that receptive and active forms of relaxation music therapy are highly effective in:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • Supporting mindfulness
  • Relaxing the body

Energizing forms of music therapy were effective through a virtual interface but required more creativity in session planning. We found that looping drum beats and sharing the audio with client computers is an effective way to get them moving. An example would be asking clients how they are feeling about COVID-19 and what coping skills they use. A client may respond with “I have been feeling exhausted and have tried to fit in time for yoga.” The therapist then shortens the phrase to include what the client is feeling and how they cope. An example would be, “Fatigue into Yoga.” A rhythm would then be determined and recorded into the loop. When group members can’t play their rhythms together, this adaptation allows clients to build rapport with each other while hearing how their rhythms fit together. 

The queer community as a whole has faced oppression through systematic injustices, including police brutality, housing discrimination, access to services, “religious-based” discrimination, and the government’s lack of response to the AIDS crisis, to name just a few. As a result, many queer people often have to negotiate a variety of potentially hostile environments and choose which aspects of their identity to risk revealing. LGBTQIA+ individuals do not belong to one economic, religious, ethnic, or neurologically diverse group, therefore each experience is different and levels of privilege will vary. A lack of safety within all social settings may have significant effects on LGBTQIA+ mental health and physical health. These aspects of the community are why I wanted to create a safe space for individuals to express themselves openly in partnership with the San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center).

After thorough discussions with The Center, we decided to target the group toward clients of all genders who were at least 22 years old. These virtual sessions would have ideally transitioned to in-person when both Resounding Joy and The Center deemed appropriate. Each week of sessions included a theme to address in addition to incorporating client preferred music or topics the members wanted to address. Incorporating the participants’ interests was most significant in our week that intersected the theme of “Self-Care” and discussions surrounding the protests for the killing of George Floyd and many other Black and Trans people. In the assessment phase of the project, group members verbalised that they were seeking a sense of LGBTQIA+ community. The members stated that this culture of community could be created through sharing their stories, sharing updates within their lives, and working together. 

As a facilitator, I desire to provide these resources for my clients while educating myself on intersecting identities and queer music therapy. I researched, wrote up program proposals, contacted the necessary parties and created partnerships with organizations such The Center. I began to find mentors and supervisors who not only identified as queer but also served the LGBTQIA+ community, and read up on peer-reviewed articles in addition to learning from  documentaries, podcasts, YouTube, and books. Before serving a population that has faced any form of discrimination or oppression, one must become aware of their own preconceived biases and assumptions. Through research and guidance, I aimed to grow my awareness of what I bring into a session in order to best facilitate the most therapeutically beneficial environment for my clients, who each bring their own experiences.

I am currently still facilitating the LGBTQIA+ group and am in the process of summarizing and writing up the data for the first responders group. Through this process, I have continued developing and building upon my skills of program development, adapting to new environments, cultural competencies, counciling, and many others. Although my time with these groups is coming to a close, the learning never stops. First Responders and LGBTQIA+ clients may appear different at first glance, but learning new techniques and understanding individual cultures and intersecting identities can be transferred to all of our diverse populations that we as individuals serve. I look forward to the opportunity of continuing to grow and learn as a clinician in the future!

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BARBARA REUER, PHD, MT–BC
CEO / Founder
P: 858.457.2201
E: breuer@musicworxinc.com

MUSICWORX INC.
11300 Sorrento Valley Rd., Ste. 104,
San Diego, CA
92121

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