Music is a Therapy – Guest Opinion Column published in the Gazette & Herald Newspaper – Oct 2014

This year the Doorway team celebrate our ten year anniversary, which is somewhat ironic since in an ideal world there would never be any need for our service. However, the world is not ideal and, in fact, the demand for our service has steadily grown over the last few years due to the increasingly complex issues that our guests face in their lives. And so, we are celebrating the fact that Doorway is continuing to exist as an independent, impartial organisation that is able to carry on standing up and speaking out on behalf of those who are rarely listened to in our society.

On the 10th October each year, Doorway recognises World Homeless Day by putting on an event to highlight the fact that homelessness is an issue that needs to be taken seriously on a local, national and international level. This year we have decided to also celebrate our tenth birthday on the tenth day of the tenth month by holding a birthday party at the Pheasant pub in Chippenham. Local comedy legend Wil Hodgson will be MC’ing on the night, our very own Doorway band will be playing a set, and Bath based band The Tin Cards will be headlining.

Since the Doorway band was set up we have proved, over the years, that informal and more structured activities such as our regular music workshops build new skills, raise self-esteem and develop guests’ self-confidence so that they can change their lives for the better.

Music sessions have enabled us to engage more productively with those guests who find it hard to express themselves in words. The sessions are creative so what goes on is an expression of the musicians (whether they are complete beginners or accomplished players). Music is the language used; words are secondary; and non-verbal communication has been proved to be very effective.

The music sessions are stress-busting and life-affirming. Anxiety levels go down during the workshops, while confidence steadily builds. Buried emotions are allowed expression in a safe environment. Guests find that they can do something that seemed impossible just an hour or so before. And the knock on effect of this can be extraordinary – a sudden moment of musical understanding seems often to open up so many other possibilities in someone’s life: “if I can do that – which I thought I couldn’t – then what else might I be able to do that seems impossible?”

And this is something which is regularly witnessed at the Doorway music workshops. Feedback includes: “Releases mental stress and brings out the best in me. I would be down in the dumps, moping around, if not getting help here.” and “an oasis of refreshment in a desert of disturbance.”

Music session facilitator Al sums up our objectives with “It was clear that what happened today was that participants achieved something they didn’t think possible at the start of the session. We were able to raise expectations and show that what seems impossible can be done: guests do this for themselves with mutual encouragement; we simply give them the initial guidance, the right environment and permission, ensuring they realise it is their achievement. By looking ahead at the next goal, while acknowledging previous achievements, we can show that differences are within reach and can be made to happen”

Providing the opportunity for our guests to perform in public as a band takes these objectives even further. Not only are they having to work together as a team in order to produce something that sounds musical but they are also stepping outside their own personal comfort zones by standing on a platform in front of a bunch of strangers. We are, in effect, thereby taking away the safe and protected environment of the private music workshops. This is all part of the Doorway ethos of enabling our guests to travel along the personal journey of building up self-confidence and self-worth which will subsequently overspill into so many additional areas of their lives.

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