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Observations placeholder

Music Therapy - Jean Eisler and Wendy with Psychological Trauma and abuse



Type of Spiritual Experience


enuretic = a type of urinary incontinence, usually referring to involuntary discharge of urine during sleep at night (nocturnal enuresis or bed-wetting), such as in a child beyond the age when bladder control should have been achieved.

A description of the experience

From Music Therapy – Intimate Notes – case studies compiled by Mercedes Pavlicevic

Based on an interview with Jean Eisler of the Nordoff-Robbins Centre in London

Wendy came to the psychiatric ward of the hospital because she was beyond parental control. She'd never felt loved, her mother hadn't wanted her, she'd only just survived the first year of her life, had been in and out of hospital for failure to thrive and bruises... there was a complicated family history of changing partners and divorces. At the age of seven, she'd literally been shoved out by her mother and told to go and find her real father. Mother was already living with someone else. Father lived some houses down the road in a one-room attic. He was a part-time worker with little money and he now had to take in Wendy and her sister.

As a toddler Wendy had been to two or three nursery schools, and was very difficult: always in tantrums or tears, severely enuretic, forever trying to do things that never quite succeeded. When she started school she couldn't concentrate, was totally obsessed with why Mother didn't love her or want her. It seemed to her to be her fault and she was thoroughly miserable. She kept running away from school, and by nine years, could barely write her name or count to seven, she'd no idea of time, days, weeks or months. It was a total muddle in her head. Social Services asked the hospital to take her in while they tried to re-house her, her father and older sister, and provide backup support.

A week after coming into hospital she was referred for music therapy.

She came to the music therapy room for the first time, immediately chose the biggest drum and started some erratic drum-beating. I improvised at the piano, trying to meet her strong unsteady playing, and within a minute or two she was able to hold a regular beat. She was almost breathless with excitement. I said 'oh, it is so exciting'- as if to express her feeling - and we were off,, getting faster, getting slower in communication with one another. She was 'in balance'!

My intuitive feeling was that this was one of the first moments she had felt held - the steadiness of the piano rhythm held her, she could go with the music; the music went where she wanted. Finally she came to the piano, sat beside me at the treble end as I improvised simply and quietly. She just played one note and the next beside it with two fingers.

Gradually she moved to another note and then another, and within a few moments she was all over the piano.... I started to put together the bits she was speaking and singing at the piano, and we turned this into a goodbye song. In the end she was all over the keyboard with lovely rhythmic playing with her two fingers... taking it all in while I sang.

A lively, instinctively dramatic child!................

Comment by Mercedes Pavlicevic

Wendy expresses the events of her life through singing: singing freely, making up as she goes along, re-telling events, using fairy tales and Christmas stories to rearrange the persons in her life: her mum who doesn't love her, her father with whom she lives, the dreadful things that have happened to her. This rearranging and 'expelling' in music therapy is in part a catharsis, a release of pent-up energy and emotion which Wendy has had to hold in, at great personal cost. Children who are traumatized and who have no opportunity to 'work through' things that have happened to them (i.e., to express, rearrange and expel them), can become distracted, 'badly behaved', irritable, unable to sleep – they begin to behave in a 'disturbed' manner.

Something more than a catharsis happens in the sessions. Wendy re-creates her life. She re-visits painful events that have been blocked out, forgotten, kept aside, too traumatic to recall. Music therapy helps Wendy to 'take control' of these events by first, daring to look at them again - this child has a courageous spirit - and then, in the sessions, by infusing them with new colours, new harmonies and emotional textures. By re-telling the stories of her life, by having Jean listen and accompany her re-telling, by being permitted to take the stories to their extreme depths, horizons, and by daring to become the stories in song and dance and drum-playing, Wendy engages in a profound act of re-creating her life, with all its tempests and tears.

In the music-making, Jean picks up not only the physical/musical qualities of Wendy's movements and playing, but also their colour, their texture, their 'feeling', and these Jean presents to Wendy, through music.

How can music portray, reflect, imitate, present the 'feeling' dimensions of our lives?......................

………… In their pioneering work with handicapped children, Paul Nordofff and Clive Robbins noticed that the drum, a primitive, noisy, almost barbaric instrument, reveals the child's expression directly and simply, allowing the child to sound themselves in a way that says, 'this is me, here I am’, without the complications of melody and harmony………………….

Imagine the following scene: you, the reader, are absolutely full of energy and feeling, you are beating a drum with splendid noise, and the therapist at the piano plays quietly and soothingly, in order to 'calm you down'. Well, the first question is, why be calmed down? If you are full of loudness, then, damn it, that is what you are, in that moment, and want to be, and how you want to play. You do not need to be soothed or calmed right this minute, thank you. And what happens here is that the therapist's 'efforts' to calm you down will, very likely, provoke you to even greater energy and loudness. So what you need is the therapist to be with you in the flow and strength and power of your feeling as you express these on the drum or marimba or in your singing, or whatever. In this way, you experience your feeling as being shared.  Somebody knows how you feel, somebody has a sense of the very essence of who you are - and lets you know it! You experience this knowing, this being known by another, directly in your joint music-making. The music validates, affirms how you feel and who you are……………….

The source of the experience

Other ill or disabled person

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Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy