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The first fully qualified and Medical Board registered music therapist in Gibraltar, Kerensa Palao has recently founded Senti Music Therapy to provide ‘person-centred and psycho-dynamically informed approach to therapy’. A variety of clients dealing with diverse issues can benefit from this type of therapy, whether acute or chronic, such as bereavement, anger management, autism or dementia.

Kerensa obtained her master’s last August and immediately set up her business. At the moment, she’s freelancing with home visits and sometimes seeking rented space where she can hold group therapy in a safe environment, making as much noise as necessary without bothering the neighbours. 

Kerensa carries around keyboard, violin, ukulele, and several percussions as ‘tools of the trade’. Percussions are the most immediate go-to instrument for the first sessions, as one would instinctively underscore one’s train of thoughts with a beat. 

It doesn’t always sound easy to the ear, but random noise is part of the purpose.

“In music therapy we value improvisation, so my clients play the instruments as they are inspired to, and sometimes they sing along,” she says. It doesn’t always sound easy to the ear, but random noise is part of the purpose, which is in fact the cathartic release of one’s tensions, the identification of challenging emotions to constructively work them out.  Sometimes, guitar strumming and drum banging lead to musical harmony, and the group composes songs that they might even want to perform publicly and document as the tangible, or audible, token of their healing.

As universal a language as music is, each individual approach to music may change according to cultural background, and Kerensa has to keep this in mind when adjusting the progress of clients’ musical expressions; yet, all in all, music remains indeed the universal language that levels most differences by reaching out to the subconscious and giving voice to it in ways that one may not otherwise be able to, especially with non-verbal or verbally limited people, eager to compensate through notes any lack of articulation.

Kerensa gives her clients freedom to choose whether to verbalise or play music, but she encourages the latter, and often joins them in accompanying them on her own instrument, because she believes that music can facilitate channelling the right words candidly and directly, while speech alone may lead to avoidance behaviour, i.e. one ends up rambling around, without really confronting the core issue.

Therapy usually lasts three to four months, in weekly sessions best kept to the same day of the week at the same time. After a one-to-one assessment first consultation, Kerensa devises a strategy plan for her new clients, and advises them whether attending group or individual therapy. She encourages group therapy whenever possible, because every participant will benefit from interacting with the others, and individual progress resonates and is amplified within the group. 

Should she evaluate individual sessions to be more suitable to any new client, Kerensa offers fifty-minute sessions which the client is allowed to leave at any time, if feeling overwhelmed: “It’s important for my clients to be reassured that I will stay put even if they leave, so they can return to me any time they wish during those fifty minutes. I am like their anchor of stability.” 

Music remains indeed the universal language.

Most do come back after a break, while others would leave within minutes on the first session and then stay longer and longer in the following ones, so that their endurance in facing the therapist, the environment in which they interact, and the issues brought forward also become part of their progress.

Music therapy reverberates with the client’s family, especially if they are required to attend sessions as chaperons, and it improves the overall progress dynamics. Kerensa actually researched the ‘ripple effect’ of sessions on attendees who were participating as supervising teachers in schools or nurses in hospitals and institutions. She noted how taking part in music therapy together with their charges changed their relationship for the better, instigated more effective healing for the client, and improved empathy in the professionals caring for them.

Of course, the relationship must be kept strictly professional; Kerensa cannot afford to get attached to her clients or identify in their issues, even if she’s going trough similar ones in her private life, otherwise her therapy’s efficacy would be eroded. 

“Always keep one foot on the shore” one of her lecturers used to remind the class: so that, when she’s satisfied they’re ready to unfurl their sails, they will be able to fully move on.

Hoping to soon cooperate with local charities like Cancer Relief, ClubHouse, the Alzheimer and Dementia Group, Kerensa Palao can be contacted on her Facebook and Instagram or via email at [email protected]

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