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Healing notes

UK-based music therapist Eleanor Richards has tapped into a melodious medium to help the psychologically distressed

education Updated: Feb 28, 2012 10:42 IST
Gauri Kohli

If music be the food of love, play on…’ This thought drives Eleanor Richards to add rhythm in the lives of those in anguish. The magical music that’s created when she plays the piano has healed several persons who are in psychological, physical or emotional distress over the past two decades.

A qualified music therapist, musicologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist, Richards, visiting India at the moment, is a senior lecturer in music therapy at the Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge, UK.

Born to a teacher father and a musician mother, Richards grew up in an environment that was both academically and culturally rich. She learnt music, Greek, Latin and French among other things while in school. So what got her interested in music therapy? “I guess I was trying to please both my parents. That’s why I’m in this field,” she says.

Before she qualified as a music therapist in 1991 from London’s Roehampton University, Richards was a researcher in musicology and also worked in arts administration.

Her early clinical experience was in Norfolk, in special schools and in centres for adults with learning disabilities. In 1994, she gained a post in the NHS mental health trust in Cambridge, working with people with learning disabilities and severe mental illness. She also did group work on acute admissions wards in general psychiatry.

In 2002, she qualified as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. In the same year, she was appointed a senior lecturer in music therapy at Anglia Ruskin University. “Since then, I have been dividing my time between clinical work in music therapy, clinical work in psychotherapy, and the training of students. My particular clinical interests are in group work and in work with people with learning disabilities,” she says.

Talking about her area of expertise, Richards says, “Music therapy involves a relationship between patient and therapist with music forming the basis of communication within this relationship.” Citing an example, she says, “One of my patients, a 30-year-old man suffering from cerebral palsy and other problems, couldn’t really move and speak. For several sessions, that lasted two years, I tried to communicate with him and create some sort of bond. I played the piano many times to see if he would try to react or move but he didn’t. Then one day when I stopped midway while playing the instrument, he made an attempt to speak and then we started communicating through sound. It meant that he was listening and that music was creating an impact,” she recalls.

Richards has made a difference to the lives of several persons through her work. “I use musical instruments such as the piano, xylophone, drums, percussion instruments and many more to establish a bond with my patients. We even use some traditional instruments from different parts of the world in our master’s programme in music therapy offered at the Anglia Ruskin University,” she adds.

The 60-year-old has also written books and presented material at a range of international conferences. These include Music Therapy and Group Work (2002) and Music Therapy and Supervision (2009). At her university, that has its own well-equipped and practising music therapy clinic on campus, students learn about clinical work through workshops and seminars. The course aims to train suitably experienced musicians as professional music therapists at the master’s level. “We prefer candidates with some experience with people who may need music therapy (such as those into social work and nursing) and those with a degree in music,” says Richards.

Where can you learn more about music therapy?
Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge; www.anglia.ac.uk/
University of the West of England, Bristol; www.uwe.ac.uk/
Nordoff Robbins Centre, London; www.nordoff-robbins.org.uk/
Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London; www.gsmd.ac.uk/
Roehampton University, London; www.roehampton.ac.uk

The list is not exhaustive

Music therapy involves a relationship between patient and therapist with music forming the basis of communication within this relationship Eleanor Richards, UK-based music therapist, musicologist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist