by Caley Garden

As a music therapy student in 2016, I established a community music therapy programme at a safehouse for mothers in Cape Town . I have continued to facilitate this group ever since. Beyond this being where I gained many skills as a young therapist, it remains the place where I am continuously becoming both the therapist and woman I aim to be. This is also how I broadly define therapeutic goals for my clients: guiding them towards their goals of personal growth and development.

According to Randi Rolvsjord (2004), “it may not be possible to empower the other, but it is possible to develop empowering interactions with them”. This challenges the defined roles, relationships and goals of more ‘traditional’ therapy models. When working through the lens of community music therapy, one is of the community with which one is working. To separate yourself as the ‘expert outsider’ would be to perpetuate the structures of oppression from which the individual or community may need healing. Within this sociocultural context, I acknowledge the privilege the intersections of my identity have afforded me.

“It may not be possible to empower the other,


it is possible to develop empowering interactions with them”

(Rolvsjord, 2004).

Through these reflections I hope to hero the experiences of the women with whom I work, while still holding myself as of the group and honouring the deep learnings and growth I have gained from being a part of it.

[Being a woman] means… to lose hope. You have got no one next to you… you are lonely. You are frustrated. And confused.

My power and my voice was taken away from me.

I can’t express myself. I don’t know, like, how to scream it out. So usually I just cry inside.

These are statements made by group members upon their entering music therapy. Abuse can have a devastating impact on one’s self-esteem and sense of identity and agency. This can lead to repression of feelings, relational struggles, anxiety, depression and withdrawal (de Juan, 2016). Within sessions, I facilitate musical experiences in which the women can take the lead and apply their own meaning. Allowing ownership creates space for growth of trusting, mutual relationships. Free improvisation, drumming, lyric analysis, relaxation and song writing act as platforms and art forms through which experiences and emotions can be communicated and heard.

At the start of a session where energy levels were low and emotions were mixed, I facilitated a drumming call and response. This transitioned into a free improvisation as a beat started and the women took up other instruments and began to sing. One woman introduced the refrain, “I know who I am, do you know who you are?” We sang it together like an anthem, some answering, “I know who I am”…


I’m brave

I’m hope

I’m a woman

I’m peace

I’m a single mother

I am power, I am a rock, I am a woman, I AM!  

Music Therapy Image

We ended with a drum roll; an outpouring of energy, celebration and connection. “At least here we can make a noise”, one woman commented. Here, we are not silenced. We are celebrating identity, and have a choice in how we represent ourselves. Within the music and our interactions, we perform a reconstruction of our identities: what society has led us to believe we are, versus who we are discovering ourselves to be.

Here we find out who each other is. Things we don’t expose when we’re in another group.

And that helps to empower each other

Ja. I think music brings it out.

Here I can make any loud noise and not feel judged or criticised.

This really shook me to open up because I never could say what I felt. With my husband also, I never, I couldn’t speak or express myself. But here I realised I have a voice.

Music allows the group to represent themselves in new ways – not as traumatised, victimised or abused, but as strong, playful, a leader, an artist, hopeful and proud.

Colin Lee (2008)  states that “As therapists, we gain more than we can ever hope to give our clients… The privilege they give is to allow us to be with them at these crossroads in their lives. We should never take this honour lightly”. In being part of this ever-changing group, I experience myself as ever-changing. I am pushed to the edges of my self-understanding, driven to continuously check my biases and my expectations. This group shows me that there are no limitations and there are no edges to my identity. That’s something to make a noise about. 

Music means strength. It has strengthened me, given me life, hopes… It has been my best friend… And it does not expect anything in return. I can be whoever, in music, without it expecting anything.

Caley Garden


Caley is a music therapist practising in Cape Town. She is passionate about developing the resilience of the communities and individuals with whom she works and is constantly inspired by the potential of music to enable authentic connection.


De Juan, T.F. (2016). Music therapy for survivors of intimate partner violence: An intercultural experience from a feminist perspective. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 48, 19-27. 

Lee, C. (2008). Reflections on being a music therapist and a gay man. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 8(3). doi: 10.15845/voices.v8i3.415

Rolvsjord, R. (2004). Therapy as Empowerment: Clinical and Political Implications of Empowerment Philosophy in Mental Health Practices of Music Therapy. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 13(2), 99-111.