Last year, I received a call at home to let me know that a service user in the team I worked in had tragically died. I had worked intensely with her, as had our team for several months which of course meant an attachment had developed. She loved music…she loved dancing and I found that none of my conventional psychology models worked with her partly due to her cognitive deterioration but also simply because she engaged with music. Once I found that singing to her was the only thing that helped her process the intensity of her own inner pain so I encouraged the use of music for her. The only drawback was that we didn’t have a music therapist or staff comfortable with this approach to see it as a valid intervention.
She was a was a polite, kind and musical soul but had emotional and physical health issues which were not fully understood in the context of her disabilities. Her death was another accident which occurred because people with learning disabilities can have serious problems such as a stroke or infection which may go undetected, or dementia which may not be easily picked up due to pre-existing cognitive issues.
At the time I did what I needed to do in a clinical, functional and I supposed professional manner. I supported other service users to grieve her loss, I provided staff support, I comforted my distressed colleagues, I wrote an article advising services how to manage personal and professional grief, I basically continued being a psychologist in spite of all the grief, anger, loss and guilt I felt.
I found myself very soon after this tragedy leaving the service perhaps because of my own unprocessed emotions. I found myself moving onto more of a management post where I felt I can perhaps influence service planning and delivery more, to include music and arts more in hospital settings. I also began to plan a charity event for learning disabilities and autism, to raise awareness of music therapy and to encourage the local community to celebrate the lives of people with incredible gifts who happen to also have learning disabilities.
The charity event, in partnership with Hope n Mic and Otakar Kraus Music Trust was soulful! The children performing* really took me back to when I first worked in learning disabilities. It took me back to my first voluntary job when I left university with a vague sense of how I was going to become a psychologist. During this brief voluntary job, a little deaf and mute girl with big anxious eyes held onto my little finger for the entire day during a visit to the London Eye! She was barely 7 years old, and I don’t think I will ever forget her anxious little face. We didn’t speak the whole time, but somehow we developed an attachment, a trust and sense of emotional safety.
All the songs I sang on the charity event were in some way related to eye contact and gaze, something very relevant in Autism which I hope the audience took away through my explanations. I hope you enjoy one of the songs below where I was accompanied by Keval Joshi on tabla and Amith Dey on keyboard. Many thanks to Hope n Mic for this wonderful event!
*Photography used in this blog are by Salam Jones, Hope n Mic