“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we were providing one to one sessions in the community, and drop-in group music therapy sessions. The one to one sessions included musical instruction, singing, reading lyric sheets, lyric analysis, emotional support, emotional expression, as well as a recording project recorded at the VPL Inspiration Lab studio.
The group sessions were structured around 2 evenings. The first being an open group jam, where participants were invited to play or learn a variety of instruments including guitar, piano, violin, voice, drums and other percussion instruments. Participants were offered the opportunity to choose songs they wanted to sing/hear, express themselves in whatever way they felt comfortable, analyze the lyrics and talk to the music therapist about emotions that might have been roused by the music.
The second evening was drop-in karaoke. This became quite popular, with many women attending regularly. With the use of a desktop computer, a small amp, microphone and YouTube, the participants were invited to sing a song of their choosing. For many, this was the first time they had sung karaoke outside of the bar setting. Karaoke night was also enjoyed by many staff who would look forward to it, and who would also participate and encourage women to come sing. When the program restarted in June, only karaoke was re-instated because it is the only program where social distancing guidelines can be followed. It is now held in an outdoor space – previously our parking lot – which adds more safety for the participants and the staff participating. This 24/7 outdoor space features a washroom trailer, tents, and picnic tables where women can rest, enjoy a meal, and participate in karaoke and other activities.”
The WISH Drop-In Centre Society operates in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES); often described as Canada’s poorest neighborhood. WISH exclusively supports women in street-based sex work. Street-based sex work is the form of sex work that is the most dangerous and has the least amount of choice, and women who are engaging in this activity are overwhelmingly doing so to survive.
These women face ongoing trauma, stigma and discrimination, mental health and substance use issues, poverty, and homelessness on an almost daily basis. Of the women who come to WISH, 25% self-identify as LGBTQ and 20% as trans or two-spirited individuals. More than half are Indigenous. Well over 80% are homeless or inadequately, inappropriately or unsafely housed. 100% live in poverty.
How does Music Therapy uniquely address the needs of clients at WISH Drop In?
People who attend WISH often struggle with the effects of stigmatization, prejudice, oppression and poverty, as well as mental health challenges including addiction. In addition, many have been feeling depressed and isolated due to the restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The music therapy program offers a safe and welcoming space where the participants feel free to be themselves. They do not have to worry about feeling judged for their lifestyle, their profession as a sex worker or anything else.
The music therapy program offers an outlet for emotional and self expression. It is a safe place for participants to experience, express and release emotions through singing, counseling, song-writing and other music therapy interventions. This has included working through grief, anger, sadness and trauma. In addition to working through difficult emotions, music therapy provides the opportunity to build confidence and re-direct clients to their own strengths, abilities and inner resources.
It is also a place for participants to connect with one another in a meaningful way. This can be through singing together, playing instruments together or conversing about the music, lyrics or memories brought up by the music. Participants often support and encourage one another in the music therapy space. For instance, someone who is very shy to sing might be encouraged to sing by another participant saying “let’s sing it together!”
How has COVID-19 impacted the program?
The program was suspended from March 16- June 16th (13 weeks). Group sessions were suspended however the reintroduction of smaller groups in the drop-in space with social distancing requirements and cleaning/sanitizing protocols is being explored. It has been very challenging to continue carrying out one to one sessions due to the social distancing guidelines. Before the COVID-19 pandemic the music therapist was able to work in close proximity with the clients, teaching piano for instance, but that has not been able to resume. In the outdoor group karaoke, a 2 meters distance is able to be maintained. WISH is currently looking at ways to continue the one to sessions, exploring tele-health options.
Based on new information regarding the safety of karaoke sessions, WISH is evaluating whether or not they will continue karaoke sessions in the back lot, or if they need to introduce additional protocols to ensure the safety of participants and staff.
Thanks to the participants of Let Her Sing, the Music Therapy program at WISH has been adopted! Because of this WISH will be able to guarantee the same amount of music programming as the participants have come to expect before the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with many organizations WISH has seen a huge loss in revenue in 2020 but the funds from Let Her Sing will help sustain the program at 100% capacity despite the fact!
Many participants were feeling very isolated with the restrictions the COVID-19 pandemic thrust upon them. Coming back to WISH, and attending the music therapy program was a great source of social interaction and upliftment for many. One participant struggling with homelessness, whom the music therapist had not met before, was very shy, but was encouraged to choose a song to sing at karaoke. This song was a song her grandmother used to sing nearly every day. After singing the song, and discussing the lyrics with the music therapist and other participants and a staff member, she expressed her gratitude for karaoke saying that she barely says more than two words to anyone, moving from shelter to shelter, only saying “hi, hello”. The meaningful social interaction which karaoke brought, gave her joy which could be seen by the big smile on her face as she was leaving.