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Observations placeholder

Music therapy - The story of stroke victim Donald



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From Community Music Therapy – edited by Mercedes Pavlicevic and Gary Ansdell

From Therapy to Community – Stuart Wood, Rachel Verney and Jessica Atkinson

Donald was 54 when he had his stroke. Formerly a witty, friendly man who had been a keen gardener, he was now unable to speak or use his right side. Even more problematically, the effects of his stroke were complicating relationships with his family. He was dealing with the sudden loss of a social group, and, needed to regain his ability to enjoy a life in connection with others. Donald’s 'social' needs presented certain challenges. What forms would they take? How would we help Donald piece together a satisfying community again? Would 'From Therapy to Community' live up to its name?

After his music therapy assessment session, it was clear that Donald both needed and preferred to remain in individual music therapy. Through joint improvisation he became able to use his weak right side, organising his body into increasingly strong, steady playing. From his feedback at the end of this stage it was apparent that he had the experience that 'all was not lost' - he did have ability, strength, and the power to create something of his own.

Donald's feedback at this time was given through a profile form which had been designed for the project by his speech therapist. Through picture and gesture he told us how he was finding out more about himself, and about music.

In music therapy he could make something which was his own: 'just for me'. His awareness of music was also expanding, enabling him to make music more confidently, and listen more widely in his own time.

After three sessions he gestured using his communication sheet that he wanted his wife Martha to join the sessions. We thought hard about the implications of this new addition. But we were very aware that Donald was longing to improve relations with his wife. In fact this was a stated rehabilitation aim for him. His multi-disciplinary team felt that there was a chance for Donald to take a step towards his goal of building community by including Martha in his music therapy.

In session four Donald and Martha played music together for the first time in their lives. As they played steady marching music on percussion they smiled at each other. In his first three sessions, Donald had gained enough confidence and skill so that he could support his wife's playing by providing a strong, steady pulse. She was drawn to listen to his contribution, and respond spontaneously in her own way. Their contrasting ways of playing made a complete music when heard together. This sense of belonging, of being complementary, was something they had lost through the effects of Donald's stroke. By gaining command of musical and communication skills Donald was ready to enjoy wider social interaction and group music-making. Martha's feedback revealed her own part in this music therapy process. She said: 'This has made me realise that since the stroke, I have lost my identity.  It has made me think about my own needs too.

The source of the experience

Healer other

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Listening to beating sounds
Listening to music


Music therapy