Currently, the music therapy program at Charlford House consists of 2 hours of weekly group music therapy, and 5 hours of one-to-one sessions for clients.
Group sessions are aimed at cultivating a sense of community, connection, and expression through songwriting, guess whose song, karaoke, improvisation, guided meditations, and singalongs. Individual sessions continue to focus on cultivating emotional intelligence and regulation, exploring themes of hope, resource and resiliency, and discovering ones identity and own voice. Interventions implemented include lyric analysis, guided imagery and meditation, songwriting, analytical improvisation, and recovery playlists. Individual sessions are aimed to cultivate transpersonal experiences, connection with community, effective boundary development, and emotional intelligence through songwriting, mandalas drawing, singing songs, instrumental improvisation, guided imagery and meditation.
Charlford serves women overcoming addiction and mental health issues. These statistics are reflective of the past 5 years:
81.25% Clients with co-occurring mental health disorders
23.56% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour)
100% Women with disabilities
17% Women who identify as homeless
From Charlford House:
“Music therapy has always uniquely supported the mental health needs of our clients and in 2021 even more so. The opioid crisis continues to become even more dire since the onset of COVID 19. This effects our clients and our staff enormously. Current clients know people who are still living in addiction and come with a heightened sense of anxiety at knowing how at risk their loved ones are at this time. The increased presence of fentanyl coupled with the increased isolation created during the COVID-19 crisis leaves people in active addiction at severe risk.
Furthermore, many of our clients are living with intense grief over the loss of loved ones and fear of the loss of others. Some have trauma due to finding loved ones who have overdosed. In addition there is increased pressure on their own recovery due to the risks of overdose being so high if they do relapse. Since relapse is usually a part of the recovery journey, the fear is palpable. Music therapy’s powerful ability to meet clients where they are at has helped immeasurably in this time. Whether it is grief, anxiety, isolation, or any of the other difficult experiences of our clients at this time, the music has been available to support our clients in processing all of it.
Music therapy uniquely addresses the needs of the clients in our program by helping them access emotions which are usually deeply defended after years of numbing with substances. Music allows a gentle, non-confrontational connection with deeply rooted emotions, which then allows the clients to begin to cultivate emotional intelligence and awareness, connection with self, and approach difficult emotions without a substance. Music therapy also fosters a sense of unity and connection in a group through songwriting, improvising, singing together, chanting, and listening to each other’s preferred music. This combats the isolation often faced in addiction, COVID 19 and grief, cultivating a sense of common humanity. We also use adapted methods of guided imagery and music to promote feelings of relaxation and safety that are so important at a time of such heightened uncertainty.”
Navigating The Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
Thankfully Charlford House has been able to go back to in person music therapy and the program is running as it was before COVID 19. They have had to address anxiety to an even greater degree, firstly due to being cooped up and secondly coping with new anxieties when restrictions eased. In general, music therapy has been important in supporting clients as they cope with uncertainty as to what life may look like days, weeks, and months down the road.
Content Warning: This story includes details of drug addiction, sexual violence and abuse, and other mentions of abuse that some may find difficult to read.
JD arrived at Charlford House after having lived through an addiction to fentanyl and a tremendously violent relationship with a drug dealer. She was very soft spoken and confused as to why she was so attached to her ex when he had been so abusive. Along with physical violence and emotional manipulation, he had introduced her to fentanyl. She was on one hand angry that he had hurt her and brought fentanyl into her life and on the other hand she was in excruciating psychological pain from their separation. Although she did not have a history of drug use, she did have a history of sexual abuse and violence in her family. Her father was violent with her mother and sexually inappropriate with her as a child.
In her music therapy sessions, she was able to explore different aspects of herself and begin to make sense of the hurt and chaos from her past and find an empowering way through to a more grounded and coherent sense of self. One intervention used through several sessions was adapted guided imagery and music. With the safety of some holding music played on the guitar, the music therapist guided her through imagining her wounded child self being met by her current adult self. At first it was very difficult for this connection to happen as it felt so vulnerable and both her adult self and child self, felt timid.
With time and support from the music therapist she was able to experience great intimacy and connection between these parts of herself. JD was able to let her wounded child be met, seen, and deeply accepted by her adult self. Her adult self was able to feel a sense of adult empowerment at being able to witness and support her beloved inner child. She found that her adult part loved this inner child deeply which was meaningful for both the wounded child and the adult self. She discovered that the very young self who deeply longed for acceptance and was reaching out for relationships, especially relationships with men. The image of this inner child and adult self gave her a clear metaphor that she could visualize. The deep acceptance, love, and belonging that naturally flowed from her adult self to her inner child eased the psychological pain of being separated from her abusive partner.
Although JD would think about him often, she learned to interrupt the thoughts instead of unconsciously feeding them and generating more longing. The deep healing with her inner child was an important step for her to gain the ability to set these limits around thoughts of him. Music therapy has empowered JD to take back her thoughts and free herself of the past.