Gareth’s story

Music therapist Lucie delivers regular music therapy sessions at a rehabilitation centre for people with acquired brain injuries. Here, she describes how music therapy has helped Gareth to find his voice:

Gareth is 52 years old and suffered a cerebrovascular accident in 2012 while on holiday. As a result of his brain injury, Gareth has limited use of language and is often fatigued, which makes it difficult for him to engage and interact.  

When I first started offering him music therapy sessions, I would go to his room with just my guitar and voice. He was very withdrawn, only looking up occasionally, and did not seem to get much out of the sessions.  

One of his Rehabilitation Support Workers told me that Gareth had enjoyed listening to the piano in the past, so for the third session he was brought to the music therapy room where he could sit next to me at the piano. I played a series of classical pieces for him – mainly Bach, Beethoven and Grieg – and also improvised in time with the rhythm of his breathing, so that he could sense himself controlling the music. This elicited more positivity and interest, and when asked if he would like some more classical music over the coming weeks he responded with an assured ‘yes’.  

Over the next three sessions I played classical piano music with Gareth at my side, who smiled approvingly and grinned if I made a mistake. He was much less withdrawn and appeared to enjoy the music, even when fatigued.  

The real breakthrough came in Gareth’s sixth session. I started with some classical music to welcome Gareth and then moved into the song ‘Love Me Tender.’ As I began to sing the first line, Gareth immediately lifted his torso to make himself more upright and looked directly towards me. I continued, and as I reached the last line of the verse, Gareth sang it too – every word and it was perfectly pitched! Before this moment I had only heard Gareth say ‘yes’, and now here he was singing a whole phrase. He sang a few more words as I continued, his body completely upright. We reached the end and I played on, asking Gareth if he’d like to sing the first verse again. He replied with a keen ‘yeah’, and then proceeded to sing almost every single word with me. I repeated the last line but left it unfinished for Gareth to complete – and he sang it in a moment of deep connection. 

The two support workers in the room were surprised and elated, and other members of the professional team were amazed when I recounted that Gareth had sustained fifty minutes of active engagement.  

Working with Gareth has been a moving and rewarding journey. The benefits of music therapy for him are transparent: helping him to use his voice and sharing positive, enjoyable, and engaging social experiences. 

– Lucie Phillips, Nordoff Robbins Music Therapist

Read more about music therapy and neurological disorders.