Three years ago, the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre extended its presence into Hawke’s Bay from Auckland, its services set up here by Registered Music Therapist, Australian Will Darbyshire. Music therapy is relatively new in this country compared with elsewhere, however in Auckland the not-for-profit serves the needs of 500+ people.

It was founded in 2004 by singer and songwriter Hinewehi Mohi and named for her daughter Hineraukatauri who was born with severe cerebral palsy and unable to speak. She found a way to express herself through music therapy while in the United Kingdom and Hinewehi on her return to New Zealand was inspired to introduce the therapy through this very successful initiative. 

Three years ago, prior to Raukatauri’s arrival, there had been limited access to music therapy in the community, although music therapists were operating in support institutions such as Fairhaven, Kowhai, Mosaic Centre and Hohepa.

Locally, Will Darbyshire has his base at Tamatea High School and at Havelock North Function Centre on Saturdays. He has a master’s degree qualifying as a Registered Music Therapist in 2017 and a degree in psychology. Ella Polczyk-Przybyla, his colleague at Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre (RMTC), started out with a degree in music and a master’s in music therapy. She is newly arrived from the United Kingdom having been recruited as Manager of RMTC Hawke’s Bay and is learning the ropes for when she takes over from Darbyshire when he returns home to Queensland at the end of April.

Working through music is a person-centered form of therapy. As Will and Ella have been recruited internationally, this role has required authentic immersion into the community structures of Hawke’s Bay; as therapists they need a responsive practice moulded to the individuals they serve. In addition, working within our diverse culture requires an understanding of cultural and family values, to work within the context of whanau, community, school and historic backgrounds. 

Music therapy – what is it?

“Music is a connector,” Will explains. “Humans innately connect with the elements of music. Rhythm, melody, beat, and timbre – these can be used by the therapist to assist clients feel a sense of grounding and calm. We are working with quite a lot of clients who are non-speaking or who struggle to communicate in the traditional ‘talking-based therapy’ sense. Making music can be used as a way of connecting expressively without words.”  

They are not using psychotherapy here, but they are feeding back observations of the client’s response to validate the client’s expression. They may see, for example, a seemingly small action or gesture and work to allow musical expression through that movement. In music therapy, each movement, sound, and expression is sought to be validated, encouraging the clients’ self-empowerment and understanding. 

They see a huge range of people and Ella believes that MT can benefit an equally significant range of needs and clients. “We see clients with learning or physical disabilities, autism, brain trauma, with aphasia, stroke or dementia. Sometimes, it is a teenager who has been through a traumatic event they can’t yet verbalise. Music therapy mitigates the risk of re-traumatising them by having to recount their experiences, instead using song-writing or improvisation to express their feelings.”

Will: “When working with prisoners who experience anxiety or depression, talking about that directly can be very confronting, so I may bring in a songbook and we explore some music together, discussing how they think or relate to their favourite kinds of music. It can be helpful to explore the relevance in the lyrics without the confrontation that comes from a direct question. This is especially useful for young men who can find it challenging to express their feelings using words,” he says.  

He has worked with Dementia Hawke’s Bay in setting up a social choir that members loved, some of whom were non-speaking. “Singing goes beyond the mechanics of speech,” says Will. “Singing is processed in a different part of the brain from speech, it can navigate those damaged neural pathways, so even people who could not speak were singing along to old familiar songs, which can also be really useful for memory retrieval.”  

MT is often used for people with strokes or where movement is limited, where they demonstrate rhythm with their arm or finger tapping; a wind chime set up to encourage making a beautiful sound. Will explains it’s all about giving them agency to express themselves through the mobility they do have. “We’re working with what they can do and facilitating that,” he says.

Integrating family with the sessions is crucial to the success of therapy, but can also be a delicate balance. For some children it may not be suitable to have parents present, so they instead do one-on-ones, pairing or grouping children or adults together. “We always keep the parents informed as to progress and very engaged with goal setting and discussing objectives or the outcomes from therapy, keeping them in the loop is essential.”

They may see a young family where siblings are there to support the affected child with mum and dad interacting with the process and everyone is having great fun with the music. Last weekend Will and Ella held a large family event when all the families came, everyone had great fun socialising, swapping stories and feeling the mutual support that comes from shared family challenges.

Although based mainly at Tamatea High School, it is a community service. The school has an ‘open community’ approach to its facilities and the music therapy is an example of that. The therapists also go out into other schools and work in aged care and disability facilities such as Fairhaven and Mosaic Centre.

As a not-for-profit organisation, funding comes from several sources; user costs by families (on a sliding scale so families requiring financial support are subsidized), applying for grants funding by staff based in Auckland, donations from charity funding organisations such as the Hawke’s Bay Foundation, and community grants from Rotary group projects, as well as RMTC’s own fund raising activities. 

Top photo: Will Darbyshire and Josie. Credit: Florence Charvin.
Lower photo supplied: Hinewehi Mohi, daughter Hineraukatauri and Will Darbyshire.

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