For a while, I have wanted to include music therapy and music therapists on Whole Music Experience. And once again, I have found a 21st Century Musical Healer in my Linked In group Musical Healers, Esther Thane. Below I’m including her biography found on her website (see link at the end of the post).
Esther Thane works as an accredited music therapist with special needs children in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Her specialization for the past 17 years has been in the field of Autism- targeting early intervention. Esther continues to provide weekly music therapy programs for the North Vancouver School District- where she interned 17 years ago! In addition to ET Music Therapy, Esther is a Music Therapy voice instructor at Capilano University, teaching in the Bachelor of Music Therapy Program.
She frequently presents at conferences and holds workshops for universities, local agencies and abroad. Esther is past Artistic Director of the Music Therapy Symposium for Kids in Vancouver. She completed Dr. Diane Austin's (Music Psychotherapy Center, NY) first international distance training program in Advanced Vocal Psychotherapy. Esther’s publication in the book: Voicework in Music Therapy, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, focuses on her innovative method of Vocal-Led Relaxation for Children with ASD. Her online music therapy resources can be found on the Mundo Pato 2.0 website, where she is also an Account Executive for Unitus- Therapy Intelligence.
Welcome Esther Thane to Whole Music Experience.
Whole Music Experience: Among your teaching and practicing experience I noticed that you contributed a chapter to “Voice Work for Music Therapy” (Kingsley Publishing) so I am intrigued with the different ways voice is used in music therapy. For instance, how do you first approach a new client, a child with autism using the voice as a therapy tool?
Esther Thane: The voice is a wonderful connector in music therapy work. For many children with Autism, direct, verbal communication can feel threatening and overwhelming, especially those first contact moments. Singing and vocalizing are ways I can get in the back door, so to speak! I can sing a child’s name, or simply hum or vocalize along with a variety of instruments, like large drums, which instill a deep, vibrational and grounding affect. This calms the child, increases their comfort & receptivity for this new situation. We can also interact and communicate our emotions through vocal improvisation. In the case of a non-verbal child with Autism, I can imitate their vocalizations and therapeutically guide them to communicate with me further, using various music therapy techniques…and they can feel validated and listened to for their efforts.
WME: What is the most challenging aspect or situation working with an autistic child? And what is the most rewarding aspect or situation?
ET: For me, the biggest challenge is finding a child’s “Musical Key”… and here’s what I mean. Most children have a certain instrument, sound quality, style of music etc. that they gravitate towards. They have an inner motivation and curiosity for it. Some may really enjoy “follow the leader” type improvisations, where they play a rhythm pattern and I reflect it back to them on my drum. Some may love exploring the timbre of the piano and listening to the notes slowly fade away, while others may prefer engaging in gross motor activities like dancing and singing. It can take a few sessions to discover that musical key but once you do, it unlocks a child’s potential. A child will always integrate and learn more readily when he or she is motivated from within. So… if the key is rhythm for a child, I can use that interest and strength to work on all the goals the rest of the team is focusing on. I can work on his impulse control, his imitation skills, his motor skills, the list goes on.
The most rewarding aspect of my job is having the honor of creating inspiring and beautiful music with these amazingly unique children and I get to witness their absolute joy with this medium. Often, children with Autism are very drawn to music and display higher levels of competency in certain musical areas. In general, they love to operate within music’s structure. I have the best job in the world!
WME: It has in your biography that your focus is on early intervention so do you start working with children when they are infants or toddlers? And what would a “typical” (knowing there is no typical one-size-fits-all) session look like with a toddler?
ET: Many of my clients are children who have recently received a diagnosis. They may be anywhere from 18 months of age and onward. A music therapy session is typically book ended with a hello and goodbye song so I would begin singing to greet them as they enter my studio. As I observe their energy in those first initial moments, I can adapt how I play/sing accordingly (tempo, volume levels, how much space/eye contact I give them etc). The child will usually move around my studio, taking it all in. If they go towards an instrument, then we start there and build a musical interaction around that.
WME: On the Kid Companions website a program for parents interacting with their autistic child through music appears which must seem like a godsend to these parents who would like to interact lovingly with their children. Do you have any success story to share about this program?
ET: This is an exciting new online course for parents of children with Autism that I have written and put my heart and soul into! It is an extension of what I already suggest to the families I work with! It is packed full of original compositions, created especially for the course and supports the parent with loads of demo videos from both myself and other parents connecting with their child through music therapy based interventions. It takes only a few hours to do the course and you have access to mp3 files and instructional PDF’s for download. It’s only been available for a short time now so I welcome any comments and reactions from partakers!
WME: Besides working as a music therapist you also mention Vocal Psychotherapy in your biography. I am not familiar with this term. What is Vocal Psychotherapy and who benefits or what conditions draw benefits from this practice?
ET: Vocal Psychotherapy is defined as the use of breath, sound, vocal improvisation, songs, and dialogue within a client-therapist relationship to promote intra-psychic and interpersonal growth and change. Targeted clientele is with individual adults, but the methods have been adapted for other populations. I use many techniques in my sessions to facilitate a safe container for a child to explore in and develop their sense of self and their own creative expression.