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The Benefits of Group Work with Those with High Needs

The ability to communicate with others has always been of prime importance for connection, mental health, and overall well-being. A person with high needs can face significant barriers and difficulties in achieving this, not to mention connecting with oneself, mind, and body.


Bringing music into a group space and using it therapeutically with the help of a trained music therapist has many wonderful benefits. Music can access parts of the brain that other modalities cannot in such a holistic way. Music sessions can be structured predictably to foster trust and security, such as knowing what comes next, and to create opportunities to practice skills.


Research shows that being with others reduces isolation, decreases loneliness, positively affects physiological factors such as blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and cortisol levels, increases connection, lifts mood, and boosts the production of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin and dopamine.



Music-making, sharing, and listening are wonderful ways to create connections in a non-threatening way. There is no right or wrong way to explore musical instruments within the music-making space. Instruments can be tailored for easier access for different participants, such as adapting a beater to make it easier to hold, using a stand for a drum or guitar, or employing switch-activated devices to create music and sounds. These can be used via hands, feet, head, mouth, iPad, eye gaze programs, and sound beams that pick up body movement. Participants can create and engage wherever they are and however they feel on the day, and all efforts are welcomed and celebrated.


The music therapist uses music to create experiences such as group improvisation, songs with gaps for the participants to contribute their thoughts, feelings, and ideas through the music, and movement to music—using different styles for different purposes, such as creating energy or calming the body.


The use of beat can also assist in functional movement and cueing movement. An example of this is an aerobics class where music provides structure and cues the timing of exercises. The body adapts to the gaps between the beats to cue its movements, and as the music becomes faster or slower, the body adapts. The brain loves beats and will latch onto strong beats—using entrainment methods, body systems such as heart rate and breathing can align. In a group, this can contribute to creating cohesion as everyone co-regulates together, whether in a calming or alerting way.


Within a group session, music can be used to assist in body awareness. Those with high needs may have parts of their body that they don’t have control over or that have no functional use. Using musical activities designed around body awareness can help participants reconnect with their bodies. Connection to self is important to assist with connection to others. In a group, there is connection.



This could be through someone tapping, touching, squeezing, or moving a body part, using a mirror to see, or watching others. Even just touch can send a signal to the brain for sensory awareness. This can lead to supporting movement for physio and occupational therapy goals. Activities can be functional, fun, funny, and adapted to each client group and their needs and purpose.


Social and communication skills can be explored, learned, and practiced in group music making. Learning and understanding how a person communicates is important for connection and has intrinsic value. Music making can be used to teach others a person’s communication style, which may include support staff, family, and friends. Knowing that everyone communicates is important, and each person shows this in a different way.


Music itself is adaptable, flexible, creative, flowing, in the moment, responsive, reflective, connecting, and universal. Group music making can be used to address all areas of a person’s well-being, helping them feel more loved, worthy, important, integrated, connected to self and others, part of a community/family, and a valued member of society.


So, enjoy some music making with others or encourage those you know to engage in a music group near you.


 

Christie has been working as a music therapist for 15 years. Christie works across the lifespan specialising in children and adults with disabilities and aged care. Christie is also a vocalist and enjoys performing and helping others to find their voice. Christie specialises in facilitating telehealth sessions for both individuals and groups.

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