A guest post from Rachel Swanick, musician and music therapist, who has been working alongside the Health and Wellbeing team at Manchester Museum and The Whitworth for just over 2 years. Here, Rachel adds to Elaine’s earlier post about the Muso Baby social prescribing pilot, and provides additional insight from her own perspective.
The purpose of Muso Baby was to encourage an emotional connection between parent and child as well as offering parents the chance to develop peer relationships and support in a safe space. With these clear objectives being therapeutic, I had to think differently about what I was offering too. Firstly, how do I make the space safe for these vulnerable people? Secondly, what does music therapy in a cultural space, such as the museum, look like?
To make the space physically safe, my colleague Elaine Bates and I made sure that there was clear signage around the room, along with barriers so that museum visitors who were not participating knew they could not come into the space. Having two of there was also useful as, when one of us was engaged with the families, the other could usher people away with minimum distraction.
To help the families feel safe, I planned themed and fun sessions which followed the same routine each week. Children and babies respond well to consistency as they can predict what will happen based on their previous experience. If the experience is positive, they will remember and internalise this feeling, transferring the good feelings on to the following sessions (and hopefully, other new experiences they will have later in life). This is the same for adults – especially those faced with emotional challenges such as mental ill health.
This method worked well with the group of families who attended Muso Baby. At the start of the sessions, all mothers presented with some of kind of difficulty. For example, ruminative and repetitive thoughts, anxious language, difficulties maintaining eye contact with their child or being too overwhelming for their child. Through the safe and consistent environment that was created in the museum and the caring, considered and supportive roles that Elaine and I offered, the families relaxed and engaged in the work.
By the time we met for our follow up session, seven weeks after the start of the work, the difficult presentations had reduced in each of the mothers. There was a feeling of quiet confidence in the room and perhaps even some pride that they had all been able to move forward in to a more positive place with an increased sense of wellbeing.
After Muso Baby finished, I thought about what music therapy looks and feels like in the museum and what it is like to be a therapist in this space. I come from a clinical background which is very boundaried. Using the open space of the museum challenged this and I had to reassess what music therapy means to those who engage in it. Surprisingly, it felt very simple. Music therapy is using music to help people to feel better. It helps people connect with themselves, those around them and also the environment they are in. The therapist is there to help the families or clients to reflect and connect their thinking so that they move in positive steps – and that role isn’t always about talking and offering clever interpretations about emotional health. It can be listening or being a consistent presence.
In all of the work that I have been involved in delivering in the cultural spaces of the Museum and the Whitworth, the golden thread has been using music to connect. The element of Muso Baby that worked well was using music as a method for parents to connect to their baby’s inner world, whilst giving them the confidence and skills to succeed outside of the therapy space.
Holding the therapy amongst the exhibits in the museum adds another dimension to the capacity to reflect upon our wellbeing journeys. The objects in the space can be used as memory tools, to be projected upon in our inner thoughts or even to provide a narrative to ourselves – or in the case of Muso Baby, a way for parents to engage with their children. Being in an inspiring cultural space which is enhanced by music and a safe therapist, can provide families with a new way of being together in a place full of meaning and memories.