With World Music Therapy Day coming up on March 1, we wanted to take the opportunity to introduce our very own Music Therapist – Marie-Victoire Cumming.
As defined by the Australian Music Therapy Association, music therapy is “a research-based practice and profession in which music is used to actively support people as they strive to improve their health, functioning and wellbeing.”
Only registered, university trained professionals can practice music therapy. Registered music therapists fuse music-making with therapy to benefit people in many ways, such as inducing relaxation, evoking emotions, reducing agitation, alleviating stress and boosting self-esteem.
We talked to Marie about her experience as a Music Therapist and what called her to the profession.
When did your love for music begin?
I grew up in a musical family and as a child, I’ve always remembered music forming a significant part of my life. At family gatherings, there was always lots of singing and playing different instruments (definitely influenced by the French side of the family!) and any opportunity to engage in music brought much joy to my childhood. I started to learn the violin at the age of 5, and the onwards music journey continues to inspire me.
What instruments do you play?
I play the violin, piano and guitar. The violin is my favourite instrument, which I feel the most connected to. My late grandmother used to play the violin and I feel so grateful to have inherited her beautiful instrument.
Why did you decide to pursue music therapy as a career?
I first heard about music therapy when I was in my final year of high school in South Africa, in 2004. We have a family friend who is a Music Therapist and her profession caught my attention. I was drawn to combining my love for music and an interest in psychology. Best decision I ever made!
What’s the best part of your job?
Being in a creative space and witnessing the value music holds in empowering ability, affirming identity, and providing opportunities for self-expression.
What memorable moments have you experienced as a Music Therapist?
I was working with a client who presented with moderate cognitive impairment and her speech was compromised due to a stroke. She struggled to find her words and was quite often frustrated, her articulation impaired and her speech was slow. As the sessions progressed, the client’s self-esteem increased and she began to vocalise more frequently. This was creating a sense of support and eliciting feelings of joy, and during one particular session, she said to me “Thank you. I had forgotten what my voice sounded like”.
That comment has always remained with me, as it reminds me that music provided opportunities for her to reach her potential and to feel heard, despite her advancing cognitive impairment.
Why do you think music therapy is so important, particularly in aged care?
At the heart of music therapy is relationship and communication. The music is being used to actively support people as they strive to improve their health, functioning and wellbeing. It’s so valuable for people who may find thinking or communicating with words difficult, but still want to express something. In aged care, even though cognition deteriorates, people diagnosed with dementia retain or preserve musical ability, which makes it such a valuable form of therapy. Music therapy may also help to reduce agitation, unlock memories and help reconnect with loved ones.
As part of our Music Pharmacy program, we have weekly music therapy at four residential aged care homes (including our Specialist Dementia Care Unit), one transition care home and two social groups in the community for Brightwater At Home clients.
As we continue to implement the program throughout our sites, we look forward to offering music therapy services to all of our clients. The Music Pharmacy also uses an innovative music therapy skill sharing model which trains and supports carers and other professionals to use music every day in healthy and intentional ways as a core part of our care. We call this approach Waltz Into Life.