Our in-house Music Therapist, Kath Bruce, has over a decade of experience working in adoption support services and has tailored the development of the music therapy service specifically to the needs of children and families at Scottish Adoption and Fostering. Read on below to find out more.

Below is some more information and FAQs we receive about Music Therapy and Somatic Experiencing and why it is beneficial to some families.

Music therapy is a form of psychotherapy that allows a client or clients to engage in a therapeutic process regardless of their capacity for verbal communication. Musical communication (such as playing accessible percussion instruments or singing) is traditionally at the heart of the intervention and, being non-verbal, is highly relevant to clients with early trauma and attachment issues, as it allows early experiences to be revisited and repatterned.

Humans beings are innately musical: we are rhythmic beings, walking, clapping, heart beating in time, breathing in and out. Our earliest communications are vocal, we need to be rocked and sung to. We can see musicality as being at the heart of a healthy, safe, regulated and joyful way of being.

At the same time music therapy is a psychodynamic process, which means the therapeutic relationship, and the client’s relational patterns, particularly in the context of their past and present attachment relationships, are key to the process.

Music therapy is now widely recognised as a highly relevant form of support for adoptive families.

Somatic Experiencing ™ is an increasingly recognised treatment for trauma. SE understands trauma as the incomplete responses left in the nervous system after experiences that were “too much, too fast, too soon”, and cause dysregulation, to greater or smaller degrees, long after the event. By working directly with the nervous system to contain and process these incomplete responses, a client can achieve a greater degree of regulation and agency over how they interact in relationship to others and the world around them.

In this highly tailored approach to adoption support, Kath, in collaboration with both the wider team, and with the family through assessment sessions, determines the best intervention which may involve individual work with a child/young person, individual work with a parent and/or dyadic work with a child and parent. This is reviewed at regular intervals to ensure we have the best match of intervention to what a family needs and can benefit from. Kath is also in contact with parents between a child’s sessions to ensure good communication around the work.

With children and young people, Kath incorporates play and somatic approaches alongside musical and verbal interaction to create an intervention appropriate to each child or young person’s age and stage, their developmental needs, and in response to who they are and what they bring. The approach is client led and based on psychodynamic theory and neurobiological understandings of trauma.

So, to answer the question “What happens in a music therapy session?”… Anything can happen! Sessions may involve a child role playing or playing hide and seek, making up games, creating a story, co-creating a song, interacting with early vocal sounds, being sung to or receiving nurture. Older children or teenagers may wish to talk more, play or listen to music or write songs. In dyadic work sometimes Kath is holding space and witnessing/guiding a child’s interaction with their parent; sometimes Kath is in more direct interaction with the child while the parent is a crucial witness to the child’s process, or sometimes we are a group of three. We begin with a safe, private, comfy room with some musical instruments and toys, and for younger children a song to begin and end. The rest of the session we co-create. It can look like we are simply playing but there are reasons why the therapist guides the session in one way or another to create safety and to deepen the process.

Simply being a parent can evoke what we call triggers for a person, often in relation to early childhood experiences that we did not know were there. Sometimes even with the knowledge that difficulties happened in our earliest years (such as ruptures in attachment, bereavements and losses, illness of a parent, hospital interventions or accidents, bullying and isolation, insecure living situations, divorces and volatility in family relationships, or the limitations of our own parents to nurture us and keep us physically and psychologically safe) our nervous systems have stored up responses to those situations that simply became the status quo in how we regulate. We only have our own experience and therefore often people have no idea the extraordinary amount of adversity they have survived.

Add to this the impact of becoming an adopter: your child comes home, bringing with them their own overwhelmed nervous system. Of course this impacts the parent’s nervous system and a child’s behaviours can be triggering, by which we mean that an alarm bell from something in our own past is set off, signifying a threat which overwhelms our capacity to regulate, think, act and see clearly. When triggers become chronic this can impact the development of the attachment relationship and impede the already huge parenting task that lies ahead.

SE is helpful firstly in identifying triggers in a non-judgemental way, disentangling these from the attachment relationship in the present so that we can see more clearly what comes from the child’s past, what comes from the parent’s past and where these two experiences collide. We understand that there are good reasons why someone’s nervous system works the way it does – that it was doing the best thing it could do to keep the person safe when there were no other options. We then work with the parent’s nervous system to allow processing of some of these triggers so that they are less incapacitating, allowing a parent to feel stronger, safer and a greater sense of agency.

This has a knock on effect: young children learn to regulate by being co-regulated by their caregivers. A child’s capacity to regulate is dependent on their caregiver’s capacity to regulate; therefore a child whose parent feels safer and stronger in their nervous system will be much better able to co-regulate.

Somatic experiencing sessions for parents involve the person coming into relationship with their nervous system, at a pace that feels tolerable. Essentially the invitation is to notice what is happening in the present moment, to slow the body’s responses right down and begin to let some of the unprocessed responses move through, very gradually. Over time, a client can find that where they have felt triggered, the “charge” in their reactions becomes lower, meaning the nervous system is less overwhelmed and opening up more choice and agency in challenging situations.

For some clients, paying attention to the body may feel familiar (for example those who have done meditation, dance, or yoga) but for some this situation is new and challenging and the nervous system can be easily overwhelmed: in every case, however, the pacing of the intervention is crucial to ensure each person feels safe enough. An important part of the work is resourcing, allowing time for a person to build a greater sense of safety within their nervous system, before responses to the greater triggers can be negotiated.

Whilst paying attention to what is being felt in the here and now, sessions also contain talking about past and present events as they become relevant, and “psychoeducation” which means useful learning about the nervous system as it pertains to the individual.

Sometimes we don’t know exactly what is needed until we are well into the work, but here are some reasons a child or parent might be referred:

  • Difficulties within the attachment relationship
  • Processing early trauma (parents and/or children)
  • Difficulties with regulation, such as high anxiety/hypervigilance, physically or psychologically aggressive behaviour, low mood
  • Difficulties in playing freely (parents and/or children)
  • Difficulties with peer relationships, bullying or isolation

Possible benefits might include:

  • A deepening and strengthening of the attachment relationship
  • Greater confidence, including confidence in parenting
  • A better regulated nervous system – allowing more capacity for play, joy and relationship
  • A greater understanding of one’s own story
  • Improved resilience and sense of resources and support

Sessions take place at Scottish Adoption and Fostering and may involve the therapist working individually with the child or with parents or siblings as part of sessions; or group work may be offered to assist building of peer relationships and social skills. The therapist works closely with allocated social workers at Scottish Adoption and Fostering to offer support that is tailored to the needs of each family and child.

About Kath Bruce

Kath aims to offer a genuine and collaborative relationship where you can feel as safe as you possibly can, where you know that you do not have to do anything that does not feel ok to you, where humour and playfulness are welcome and where you know you are respected for making the step of entering therapeutic work.

Originally qualifying as a music therapist in 2008, Kath has over a decade of experience working in adoption support services and has tailored the development of the music therapy service specifically to the needs of children and families at Scottish Adoption and Fostering. Having an interest in somatic work since training, she trained in Level One Sensorimotor Psychotherapy in 2012 and later went on to qualify as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in 2023.

Kath’s original background working in NHS adult mental health and learning disabilities services informs her adoption support work, having in common the specialism of attachment and trauma work, and she is also a clinical supervisor.

Referrals to music therapy are managed through the After Adoption Team. To enquire about music therapy, please contact your worker or email Leasa, Practice Manager.