WORDS Joshua Brosnahan PHOTO Sarah Rowlands

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Currently in Aotearoa, music therapy is in its infancy compared to the rest of the world, with only an approximate of 75 registered music therapists working around the country. However, this field of therapy is growing faster than ever. Music therapists in health, education, and social system settings are necessary and play a vital role in the progression of health services throughout the country.

Music therapy has an evidence-based therapeutic approach – strongly based in neuroscience, neurobiology, and psychology. It is widely used around the world in mental health fields, as well as trauma
and dementia, and has been used to treat neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. It can also assist those living with intellectual disabilities.

Devin Brooks is one of these therapists. After attaining a Bachelor of Music degree in Classical Voice Performance from the University of Canterbury School of Music, he went on to study a Master of Music Therapy degree at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand School of Music.

“I grew up in a musical family that brought people together. My first realisation to the effects that music can have on the health and wellbeing of people was witnessing how music could elicit my grandmother to recall meaningful life memories through the haze of her advancing Alzheimer’s. Music in our family home also supported my father to connect with his children, and cope in everyday situations following a severe traumatic brain injury.

“For myself, music was a great passion that gave me a means of self-expression, confidence building and self-identification growing up as a young gay lad in Christchurch.”

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In Devin’s clinical practice, he specialises in supporting young people who have experienced significant complex trauma. He works alongside Stand Tū Māia – an organisation that supports children who
have experienced trauma through either significant neglect and/or abuse, attachment and relational trauma, domestic violence, or a particular traumatic event.

“These children have been primed to see threat, even in the faces of those who are trying to help them. My job as the music therapist is to support these children to feel safe in the world; to build positive and trusting relationships with others; to feel loved and cared for; to support them to regulate and express their thoughts and emotions; in the aim of transforming their trauma experiences so that they can grow up to be strong and resilient adults living positive and fulfilling lives.”

Devin mentions that he is extremely passionate about supporting these children. “Traditional talk therapies and counselling are not always the most effective approaches. Music therapy has the ability to bypass certain barriers for these kids, and reach them in such engaging, positive, and meaningful ways. I have worked with children who have not been able to control their emotional outbursts, whom have very little to no ability to engage and relate with others, yet music therapy has helped them to develop a greater sense of safety and calm; they begin to open up and find enjoyment in being alongside others; they are able to properly express themselves without needing to use words. All through the use of music and a carefully built therapeutic relationship.

“I love my job. I genuinely feel that I was born to be a music therapist.”

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan