Her mother thought she was speech impaired. For years the child had not spoken a word, and hearing her sing a rhyme was something they had long given up hope for. She was autistic, you see. But Margaret Lobo, a UK-based music therapist associated with Music Therapy Trust in Mumbai, knew she could be reached through music. Lobo sang nursery rhymes, prodding the child to sing after her. After just three sessions her student sang – loud and clear. Lobo had unbolted her isolated world, if only for a brief moment.
Lobo is one of the unlikely people working in the field of behavioural therapy. After all, music, dance, art or brain gym don’t seem to belong in psychiatry books. Yet, these creative forms may have solutions to psychological problems. Doctors are increasingly prescribing these therapies for attention deficit syndrome, dyslexia, autism, depression and even schizophrenia.
Broadly these therapies work on the premise that the basic brain structure is the same for everyone and if somebody cannot read, write or communicate it isn’t because there is something wrong with their brain but because we don’t have the right tools to communicate with them. These tools could well be found in various art forms.
Lobo, for instance, uses music therapy to deal with autism, ADHD and other disorders. “It works on anyone. You could be paralysed due to a stroke, but the ability to hear and comprehend music never goes,” she says. She encourages a child to experiment with many instruments, looking for cues about what might work in each case. The breakthrough may take weeks, sometimes even years and the effect may be fleeting. “There is a feeling of triumph each time a student manages to dance, sing or speak a sentence coherently.”
Dance therapy, meanwhile, uses body movements to increase emotional and physical coordination. It believes that the body’s shape can affect one’s attitude. Tripura Kashyap, a Hyderabad-based instructor with a degree in dance stroke movement therapy from Hancock Centre of Dance Therapy in US, says, “Dance can improve imitation skills and memory, as kids are motivated to make eye contact, focus for a long time and learn the sequence of steps.”
Another programme that’s gaining popularity is Neuro linguistic programming (NLP). Krish Srikanth, who has trained with American NLP practitioner Anthony Robbins, says kids with learning disorders store and comprehend information in a way that’s different from others. They can benefit from NLP spelling strategy, that attaches images and feelings to words to make learning and spelling easier.
But there are some roadblocks. Dr Vikas Mohan Sharma, a psychiatric at Vimhans, Delhi, says, “The therapies can be effective if used with medicine. But getting to the right person may be tough.” Parents must check the therapist’s qualification. For instance, a certificate in music therapy is given by Apollo Hospital, Chennai, and Music Therapy Trust of India.